As we celebrate the graduations of our children and grandchildren all across the community with family and friends and posts on Facebook, Goshen Valley Boys Ranch is celebrating an impressive milestone of its own.

This year, nine of the young people in foster care at the ranch in north Cherokee County graduated from high school, a record number for Goshen Valley, whose mission is to provide peace and purpose to youth in foster care.

If you know founder John Blend and his son, Zach Blend, who is CEO of the nonprofit, you are not surprised that the young men who call Goshen Valley Boys Ranch home are doing so well.

For those who are not acquainted with the program, the Boys Ranch is located on 160 acres near Waleska and is home to about 40 young men in foster care ages 8 to 18. All boys participate in therapeutic counseling, public school education, and the ranch’s comprehensive recreation program, all while living in a unique, family-based home.

The goal of its founders is to make sure every young man knows the safety of a home, the love of a family, and the hope of a future.

For so many of us, we and our children and our grandchildren were born with expectations of life in a loving family and a safe home. But that is sadly just not true for way too many children in our society.

Children who end up in foster care are the innocents in the situations that they find themselves in through absolutely no fault of their own. In our transient world, where drugs and alcohol have left an increasingly ugly mark, and single parents face tough struggles, these children left without parental care are all too often cut adrift.

Most of us feel the pain of those children, we care deeply about their hurt, but most of us either don’t know what to do, or just never get around to doing it.

John Blend is the type of person who, when he gets something on his heart, does something about it with his entire force of personality.

That is how he tackled the desire to help youth in foster care. The motto blazoned on Goshen Valley’s website says it all. “Kids in foster care deserve better.” I believe John Blend thinks about that every day and puts his skills and mental capabilities to work to find a way to make that happen.

The stories of the children who come there are gut-wrenching. Two brothers, whose parents devolved into drugs and often left the young boys to fend for themselves, the older brother forced to steal food and money when just 7 years old, so that they would not go hungry.

Eventually, when they were 11 and 9, they were taken into state foster care and separated. The younger child was placed in a foster home, but there was no room for the older boy, who was sent to a group home two hours away. After more than a year, the mother lost her parental rights to the boys, leaving them further adrift in the system.

But then, a miracle happened, and they were reunited at Goshen Valley Boys Ranch, after two years apart where they began to heal, and eventually to move forward toward their future. The boys lived at Goshen Valley for more than two years, when a couple who did not have children of their own decided to get to know them, and eventually to adopt the brothers. The older brother soon finished high school and went on to technical school to pursue a career in sports management. The younger brother was continuing his education.

Of course, not all journeys at Goshen turn out that well, but most have positive outcomes.

And in the end, it really does take a village, and our village in Cherokee County is strong. When you look at the foundation’s annual report, you see some of those who are going above and beyond to make sure that Goshen Valley does its job in helping foster youth.

Names like Cherokee Schools Chief of Police Buster Cushing, Builder and Developer John Weiland, Zip Cain of Revolution Church, School Board Chair Kyla Cromer, Cherokee Sheriff’s Col. Tommy Pinyan, Garrett Holcomb of Horizon Planning and an adoptive Goshen Homes parent, and Hayden Holcomb of Chick-fil-A, just to name a few.

Goshen Valley is defying the odds for youth in foster care. Statistics show that only 50 percent of children in care graduate high school, but this year Goshen Valley saw all nine of their family become graduates. What a wonderful accomplishment.

We can celebrate with them and honor these graduates by donating to the organization at their website, goshenvalley.org.

What a difference love, care and positive influence can make in the life of a child.

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Rebecca Johnston is a lifelong Cherokee County resident and former managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.

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