Chosen Ranch moves forward in mission to help youth
By Cheryl Peterson
A cool breeze passes over the open ground between the pasture toward a large home with a peaked roof. Tall pines sway slightly, seemingly whispering to each other in a language only a few might understand.
A doe grazes slowly ambling across an open field as two fawns with fading spots follow energetically bucking and bouncing around her. Two horses grazing in the pasture barely glance up as cars begin to wind their way up the long, dirt driveway toward the house. Car doors open and close as teenagers exit.
As more cars come and go, the crowd of young people grows as does the sound of happy chatter and laughter which echoes off of the trees and carries across the field. The deer meander into the woods. Adults are interspersed among the youth. After a while, they all walk inside the building adjacent from the house, up the stairs where they are led in prayer and into the lesson of the evening. The second week of the newly formed youth group at the Chosen Ranch begins.
An hour later the group tromps down the stairs, piles into cars and heads to Alcona High School to watch the volleyball game. Thirty plus people – youth and adults from the Chosen Ranch – cheer for the Lady Tigers on their home court.
A couple of days later, several miles west of the Chosen Ranch, the thump of a basketball and muted laughter drift over the manicured lawn and neat flower gardens and fade into the surrounding woods. The sun drifts toward the horizon and the aroma of slow cooking food wafts through the open screen on the front door where two fishing poles lean against the porch railing. Inside the home, through the kitchen, the dining room table is set for eight.
When “dinner” is called, the basketball is forgotten and a flurry of footsteps and bits of conversation diminish in volume as hands are washed, food is placed on the table and two teenagers, two neighboring pre-teenagers and four adults settle around the table. Heads bow in prayer and silence invades the room as one soft, but strong voice gives thanks for the blessings bestowed upon those present.
This is the home of Frank and Jinny Dimercurio, founders of the Chosen Ranch. The two teenage boys seated at their table are the first young men to be part of the program which is designed to provide a home for youth who need a second chance at living with parents who love and care for them.
Less than one year ago, with the vision of having a home, with house parents to make a family and support of the community, the Dimercurios put up everything they had to make their vision a reality. In February, the home on 160 acres north of Harrisville on Beaton Road was purchased; and more than 1,500 volunteer hours and countless dollars, including donated funds, services and items, were put into the house, (which had been vacant for several years before it was purchased), other buildings and the property.
As of September 5, Joshua and Sara Whitten and their family moved into the home at the Chosen Ranch and are ready and waiting for young men who will live with them there. Dimercurio explained the mission at the Chosen Ranch is to Love children, to protect them, to treat them with Dignity and provide a Christian Home where they can thrive and grow.
“We believe with all of our hearts, that when a child is provided with a proper home, with parents that are there when they get up in the morning and when they go to bed at night, are loved unconditionally, are clean, well fed and are shown the love of Christ on a daily basis, they will thrive and become productive members of our society,” he said.
Just exactly how that was to happen was not completely clear at the time, but it became clearer and more solid as more people got involved and became committed to their vision. “What looked like a mountainous task just nine months ago has blossomed into a very manageable and rewarding task and the place looks beautiful,” Dimercurio said. “The house parents have been moved in, the beds are all in place, the grounds have all been manicured (at least still under construction) and now we are waiting for God to send the finances for us to be able to move some more children into the home and help rescue them from some pretty sad situations.
“We have already been blessed with two young boys who are now living with my wife and me, and have become a part of our family. It was originally intended for them to move over to the Chosen Ranch when it was completed but I am afraid that we will not be able to peel them away from us even though they are front and center in the Chosen Program. There God goes again, laughing at us as we try to tell him our plans. Just like he must of been laughing at Virginia and me when we were discussing years ago on how we were going to spend our retirement years,” he said.
While all of the work was going on to repair and improve the buildings and property at the Chosen Ranch, young men and women were coming and going from the place all summer as they participated in boys and girls summer programs. The girls program, which began for the first time this summer, had six to eight regular participants who spent two hours a week for 12 weeks with Bible study and discussion for the first hour or so; the rest of the time was spent in activities that enforces a positive self-image and self-esteem. They also worked with the two equine residents of the Chosen Ranch, Storm and Sampson, throughout the summer. At the end of the summer they spent several volunteer hours at Lost Lake Woods Club then went horseback riding, swimming and ended the day with a picnic.
The boys program, where young men met one day a week for 12 weeks, included roughly an hour of Bible study and discussion and instruction on wilderness survival for the second hour. The final week culminated in a 48-hour wilderness camping trip where the boys used their skills in a remote area of Alcona County.
Jamie Bullis, assistant executive director of the Chosen Ranch and lead mentor of the boys summer program, said several men who had the intention of being support for the boys ended up being much more involved. “Some of them started out listening on the outer edge of the circle and ended up in the circle participating, Bullis said. “And, a few of them completed the 48-hour wilderness camping trip.”
That is not an unfamiliar occurrence – starting out as a supporter and stepping into the circle to become involved. Dimercurio, Bullis and other board members have witnessed time and again in the last nine months.
“People, churches, organizations, businesses – have openly supported us financially, spiritually, in giving their time and in words of encouragement,” Dimercurio said. “It’s been a joy to come together for a greater good – to watch the community come together to help with this effort. People will do whatever the Lord puts in their heart – whatever they can and we are so very thankful and appreciative.”
Bullis echoed Dimercurio’s sentiment, “God works… It’s his timing not ours. We are just tools in the tool box… We would have never expected this to come along this far this soon… The support has been overwhelming – from the people who just stop in (at the Chosen Ranch) because they’ve heard about it, to the folks who come to our fellowships, to the people that we talk to as we are out in the community – it is amazing,” he said.
He is often asked to talk about the Chosen Ranch at area churches and organizations’ meetings. He has had about a dozen speaking engagements in the last month. “Whenever we have an opportunity to talk at a church or anywhere it seems to ignite a new fire in people who are just hearing about the Chosen Ranch. It’s exciting. People get wound up and want to help. It’s been cool,” Bullis said.
The Chosen Ranch is hosting a free public event on the property on Saturday, Sept. 26. The Fall Fellowship will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. and will include children’s games and activities (all afternoon), a graduation ceremony for the boys summer program (around 3 p.m.), tours of the house and property (all afternoon), fire safety demonstrations by local fire departments (all afternoon), and a wildlife educational program by Wildlife Recovery Association, a wildlife rehabilitation organization who works with birds of prey (at 4 p.m.).
For more about the Chosen Ranch see the website: www.chosenranch.org or the Facebook page: Chosen Ranch or call (989) 464-9394.
Newly launched effort encourages community involvement to help youth
By Cheryl Peterson
A car door opened and a lanky teenage boy got out. He reached into the back seat to retrieve a duffle bag. He shut the door and stood on the sidewalk and watched his grandfather pull out of the parking lot and turn onto the highway heading south.
This teenager had no one else to live with. He glanced at the social worker standing in front of him and then down at his shoes. After listening to her for a moment, he hunched his shoulders and followed her into the brick building.
This scenario is a generalization of an actual situation that played out last fall. Because of circumstances that were not the fault of a 15-year-old boy, he was literally left on the steps of the Alcona County building as his grandfather drove away. Both parents had not been involved in his life for some time and the only person willing to take him in was his elderly grandfather, who eventually decided he didn’t want to take care of the teenager any longer.
In this case, the teenager ended up in a foster home for several months and then, because he made a bad decision, a juvenile home in another part of the state.
When he is finished in that institution, this young man will have a place to call home in Alcona County – The Chosen Ranch. In several months’ time so will other boys aged eight to 18.
The Chosen Ranch, located on Beaton Road in Haynes Township, is in the developmental stage to become a Christian home for abused, neglected, abandoned and homeless children in Alcona County, according to founder and executive director Frank Dimercurio. “We believe with all of our hearts, that when a child is provided with a proper home, with parents that are there when they get up in the morning and when they go to bed at night, are loved unconditionally, are clean, well fed and are shown the love of Christ on a daily basis, they will thrive and become productive members of our society,” he said.
The Chosen Ranch is rapidly moving from a long-held dream to a reality for Dimercurio and his wife, Virginia Dimercurio, of Harrisville. “I am watching, in what feels like slow motion, a jig saw puzzle come together – all of the pieces are falling into place from our past, other peoples’ past… life-long passions and experiences. It’s all coming together,” Frank said.
The Dimercurios, Rick and Kay Dafoe of Mikado and Jamie and Joy Bullis of Hubbard Lake are executive board members for The Chosen Ranch. They have been the driving force behind the Chosen program since last summer when 12 teenage boys, from various locations within the county, who were lacking positive adult guidance and parenting, were strongly encouraged by Alcona County Judge Laura Frawley to participate in a newly developed 13-week program. Not court sanctioned, this Christ-centered program was developed and led by Jamie Bullis and facilitated by several male mentors who drove the teenagers to and from the program each week.
Dimercurio and Dafoe were two of the men who helped with the summer program. “I told Jamie that he didn’t know it then, but he was going through a 13-week job interview,” Frank said.
That “interview” was the next piece of the puzzle. Frank, who was born and raised in Detroit, Mich. started his first business when he was 19. Over the course of the next 40 years he started, expanded and sold several businesses, worked for two national nonprofit organizations in fund raising, earned a bachelor’s degree in personnel and business management and worked in numerous, volunteer positions with children and young adults from his community and beyond.
He and his wife, Virginia “Jinny,” purchased their property in Mikado in 2002 and made it their permanent home after retiring in 2010. Getting involved in the community didn’t take long – Jinny began helping out with My Brother’s Hope, she got Frank involved, which led him to spend time at the county courthouse where he met Frawley and other court officers and he began a mentoring program for local youth.
“I’ve had a passion to work with kids my whole life,” Frank said. “I learned that with a little bit of a break they can have a whole different outcome… By mentoring young people and showing them a different way; by introducing them to the guy who can change their life – Jesus Christ – not from a church standpoint, but to know him personally – it is a powerful thing.
After the summer Chosen program concluded, the nonprofit, federally tax exempt parent organization, Community Support Distribution Services (CSDS) was formed and goals and objectives, including financial stability without state or federal funds, were developed in a multi-faceted program. The first facet involves The Chosen Ranch, with plans to expand, as needed, the number of homes for youth on the 160 acre property.
“This is a home – not a camp, not an institution… it’s not a center,” Jamie said. “This is a home for abused, neglected, abandoned and homeless children. Our mission is to be there for kids that have never had one where they are valued, where they are special, and where their enormous potential is recognized. We will tell them they are loved.”
Frank explained CSDS and The Chosen Ranch are committed to providing a Christ-centered home environment. “We are committed to providing a quality education through partnerships with local schools and churches. We are committed to working with local businesses to provide a variety of job training opportunities. CSDS and The Chosen Ranch will provide every child that is entrusted to us with all tuition and living expenses needed to achieve a four-year college degree.
Jamie, is the assistant executive director and his wife, Joy, will be overseeing the day-to-day operations of The Chosen Ranch.
Without realizing it, the Bullises have been preparing for this responsibility for most of their adult lives.
Joy Bullis received a bachelor’s degree in social work, specializing in juvenile justice, from Michigan State University in 1997. While attending college she worked for three years at the Eaton County Youth Facility. After receiving her degree she conducted an after-school program in Ingham County for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. From 1999 to 2002 she was the director of a residential program for at-risk youth at White Pines New Beginnings in Manistee, Mich. In this capacity she was in charge of four foster care homes with teenage youth.
Jamie has been a trooper with the Michigan State Police since 2000. He has been a canine handler since 2008. He has also been involved with youth as a coach for baseball, basketball, football, track and soccer from third grade to varsity level. He coaches varsity track and field and cross country at Alpena High School. Additionally, he started and maintained a youth ministry from2002 to 2006 before moving to Alcona County. He is also an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting and fishing – especially bow fishing.
Jamie and Joy married in 1998 and moved to Alcona County in 2006 when Jamie was assigned to the Alpena post – Lincoln detachment. Her work with children turned inward as their family grew. They have three boys.
“I’ve been raising my children for the last 13 years,” she said. However, she has continued to work with children in the community as the varsity track coach and cross country coach for Alpena High School, teaching classes with the home school group in the greater Alpena area (Mikado to Rogers City to Hillman) and spent three years as the summer program director for Word of Life Church in Alpena.
Initially, when Jamie approached Joy about taking on the responsibility presented by the Dimercurios and scope of The Chosen Ranch, “I said ‘no,’ ‘no,’ ‘no.’” But more consideration brought back dreams from a long time ago. “I remembered what my passion was… It’s a big step, but honestly, it’s been in my heart for probably 20 years. I just got side-tracked with my life,” Joy said.
“We feel like we have the life experience – our heads are in the right place. Our spiritual walk is in the right place – and that’s not something you experience when you are 20. I’m very excited about the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life – someone who wouldn’t get that chance…
“How easy is it to provide three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and love? It’s so simple. It seems easy to me – these are just things we take for granted,” Joy said.
“These aren’t bad kids – these are kids that come out of a bad situation – abuse — sexual and physical – neglect – no food… doing what I do, I see it a lot,” Jamie said. “(Many people) have no clue the battle these kids have to wage each day just to survive. They have to figure out where they are going to get food, where they are going to sleep on a daily basis.
“Too many people turn their backs and walk away. And, a large part of our community passes judgment on them because of their situations. It’s time to do something about it and we are absolutely all in.”
Joy is going through the in-depth process of being licensed by the state as a child group home provider. If all goes well the process should be complete by the middle to end of May. “Not only will I oversee all of the homes, I will be visiting the schools on a daily basis and be a presence in the schools, I will be programming night activities whether it is Bible study, homework or a therapy session – all of the things a parent does… I will make sure their needs are being met and help them find their niche in life – what they are interested in so they can find a job that they will like and enjoy,” she said.
Jamie explained The Chosen Ranch will teach four pillars to all youth under its roof. “When we take them, we will raise them and give them everything they need. Everyone who comes here is going to leave with this: Learn a work ethic — nothing is free; learn money management; learn time management; and – it’s all about Jesus. This is a Christian program. We will not push our faith down their throats, but they will spend time and learn about him.”
Quite a few of the lessons of responsibility, time and money management and more will come by having the youth involved in raising farm animals – cattle, chickens, horses — working in the garden and exploring and developing other interests like hunting and fishing, playing music, auto mechanics, carpentry, et cetera.
The most difficult aspect of his position, Jamie explained, is making the determination of who will be accepted because of the parameters that have been set by the board. He expects there will be many youth that The Chosen Ranch will not be able to take in because of various aspects of their background.
Another component of the Chosen program, is The Chosen Fellowship which will meet on Saturday nights at the Alcona High School auditorium. Jinny Dimercurio, special project manager, explained this aspect of the program will create a network of area churches and partner with them to help coordinate efforts to counsel, educate and engage residents to help one another through food banks, free stores, crisis counseling, community choirs, community work groups and a mentoring program that will match at risk teenagers with trained adults to provide advice and encouragement.
“The reason I wanted to get the fellowship (established) is to reach young people… to teach them to respect themselves and to respect others… to know their own value and worth. When they understand their value they won’t get caught up in life altering relationships that may produce a child – which is beautiful and a gift from God – but it’s so much better when that gift is received when there are two capable, adult parents who can raise the child together.”
Jinny plans to implement life skills classes into the fellowship program. “Life skills classes are really important to me – classes on dating, marriage, money management …” We need to find people that can teach these classes. We can’t go any farther until we get volunteers to do the classes.”
All of the board members are clear in stating The Chosen Fellowship is not a church. “We are not starting a church. There are enough churches in Alcona County,” Frank said. “We are trying to tie the community together to work toward the greater good and there is no greater good than our children… All of this coming together has been such a joy to watch and experience. All of the wonderful people that we’ve meet and so many people and businesses who have offered their help and services…”
To learn more about The Chosen Ranch and The Chosen Fellowship, the first fellowship will be held on Saturday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Alcona High School auditorium on Barlow Road. There will be music, guest speakers and refreshments throughout the evening. There will also be opportunities for individuals, businesses and organizations to get involved.
For more information or to make a donation, see the Chosen Ranch Facebook page; the website www.chosenranch.org; write to: The Chosen Ranch, P.O. Box 190, Lincoln, Mich. 48742 or call Jamie at (231) 233-2216 or Frank at (248) 761-1052.
(This article was published in the Alcona County Review on March 18, 2015.)