Goshen Valley has overcome the challenges of operating during the novel coronavirus pandemic, ensuring the safety and uplifted spirits of the children on the ranch, as well as staff and foster families.
“We had done everything in our power to emphasize and focus on safety, while also ensuring that life on the ranch would continue as it typically would as much as possible,” said Zach Blend, CEO of Goshen Valley. “It happened rather quickly at the ranch where we quickly moved into quarantine, ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of our boys and staff.”
Among the changes, Blend said education and the overall daily routine were affected most.
“We created a way where the staff and boys could connect collectively as much as possible. That was helpful especially through the context of education,” Blend said. “We benefited significantly from the use of the Goshen Community Wellness Center, which had just opened back in January — to have that space where the kids could connect on a daily basis both with a focus on academics, as well as activity.”
Seniors on the ranch rose to the call of helping younger children continue their education.
“I think it is one of those areas I am most impressed by, watching them on a daily basis take that on with some creativity. That included having some of our seniors, boys that would be graduating this year, step into roles of mentor and teacher for the younger boys,” Blend said.
With the limitations, all Goshen Valley Boys Ranch children finished the year with passing grades.
“The feedback we received from staff, house parents and the boys that were teaching was about how memorable that time will be, they all stayed very committed to each other and tried to make the most of it,” he said.
Similar sentiments were shared by Edward Tsui, GVBR youth and Cherokee High School senior, and Goshen Valley Boys Ranch Executive Director Stacy Cooper.
“Not just anyone can say they get to make a difference during a pandemic. The opportunity to serve these kids as a tutor has been nothing short of a spiritual blessing,” Tsui said.
Cooper said the older youth have stepped up to help tutor, mentor and lead recreation activities.
“Our boys on the whole have experienced a consistent and loving environment that is slowed down from their normal rigorous schedule,” Cooper said. “While many have been quarantined apart, we have been quarantined together. Our boys have grown more connected to each other and to the adults here and have made tremendous strides academically, socially, spiritually and behaviorally.”
Cooper said the ranch has allowed activities such as ultimate Frisbee, flag football and church services each week.
“Throughout this season, our boys have been resilient, well-behaved and helpful and many of the best memories of my almost seven years at Goshen have been made these past six weeks,” Cooper said.
Blend said Goshen relied on a couple key staff members to go off campus to buy groceries and supplies during the pandemic.
“I am very proud of what we have accomplished,” he said. “We had limitations in terms of the ability to get on and off campus. As a staff, many of which have been working remotely, we stay in touch with each other daily through Zoom and I am proud of how our back office continued to operate efficiently processing donations, bill pay, payroll and all the things that go on behind the scenes that you forget about that we have had to learn to do from our homes.”
Training and professional development have also been provided each week to around about 40 people, providing time to connect.
“We have not been without challenge, but I feel in a way we have all stepped up not only for the betterment of our kids but also to ensure we feel supported by one another as well,” Blend said.
Among those who have stepped up during this time, the house parents on the ranch.
“Our house parents, more than just being patient, their perspective and what they have been able to share with our boys about this moment in time, about what our community, country and world are facing collectively, have tried to keep the right type of perspective in place,” Blend said. “Rather than creating this sense of complaint, there has been a sense of commitment from one another. Our house parents have stepped up and truly guided our boys through all of this with a lot of love and support.”
Foster parents are also among the community of Goshen helping foster children.
“They have had the tremendous task of homeschooling during the day and have stepped up to the challenge while also providing care for foster siblings and in many cases their own children — quite the feat,” Blend said.
Blend said the community has been at the forefront of support for Goshen.
“Goshen is so community-centric. It is really the heartbeat of our ministry. The impact and influence of our local churches, the support of local businesses, the connection we have with the school district — the support we see from those groups allow us to be confident not only in what we have done, but what we will continue to do,” Blend said. “We can embrace this moment with positivity because we have been supported so well.”
Cooper said Goshen is thankful for the community support they have received since the stay-at-home order in March.
“During a time that has represented challenge for so many in our community, I am grateful for the small positives that have come out of something so difficult,” Cooper said. “We have witnessed community in an unprecedented way here at Goshen.”