Faith Life, October 2018

Heritage Ranch, A Haven for Troubled Youth

Heritage Ranch

A Place for Kids in Crisis

by Lisa Tramontana

Heritage Ranch covers more than 50 acres in Zachary, about 20 miles from Baton Rouge

In the summer of 2016, Vicki Ellis had plenty of reason to be proud. The residential program she had founded for troubled youth was thriving. It had taken a decade of planning and fundraising, but Heritage Ranch Christian Children’s Home in Zachary was firmly established with its first five residents making great progress academically, behaviorally, and spiritually.

And then came the flood.

The 52-acre property, the office, the beautiful home where the boys lived with their house parents — all were under water now, damaged beyond belief. Ellis would have to start over. The ranch would have to be closed. But worse than anything, the boys would have to be sent home. Imagine Ellis’ disappointment and sadness.

Fortunately, Ellis is a fighter and was determined not to give up. Heritage Ranch had been a dream since she was a teenager, and she had poured her heart and soul into seeing that dream come true.

“The damage was estimated at $570,000,” she said, “but we rebuilt. The boys continued the program with outpatient counseling, and we were fortunate that so many people helped us by donating supplies, gutting buildings … completely renovating the ranch.”

Slowly, the broken pieces were put back together. Heritage Ranch officially reopened last January with a new group of boys who live with house parents Tori and Gage Caszatt, and residential advisor Kyle Sheppard. The program is designed for boys age 10 to 18 dealing with anxiety, depression and mild to moderate behavioral disorders. They are most often referred by schools, churches, counselors or law enforcement. Many parents say they were out of options and felt they had nowhere else to turn when they discovered Heritage Ranch.

Applicants go through a detailed screening process to ensure they will benefit from the structured model and Christian environment. Those with a history of violence or sexually inappropriate behavior are not accepted. With a focus on counseling and education in a disciplined environment, the hope is to reunite the boys with their families in a period of about 18 months.

The boys participate in school, recreational activities, family dinners, nightly devotions, youth group meetings and daily chores. They return home every other weekend and on holidays. “We expect them to do their schoolwork, get along with their peers and be respectful to others,” Ellis said. “We use a ‘choice and consequence’ model to teach them that their actions matter.”

In other words, along with love, praise and support in a family setting, the boys also understand that a refusal to follow rules results in a loss of privileges.

“They understand this concept,” Ellis said. “If they act out, they know that the consequence might be extra chores or an early bedtime. In their homes, they might have yelled and screamed and pushed their parents until they gave in, but that doesn’t happen here.”

Many parents are conflicted about sending their children to a residential program, often because they feel as if they are giving up. But one of the program’s most appealing aspects is family counseling that involves the parents, siblings and anyone else who participates in the raising of the child.

Josh Atwell is the development and marketing director at Heritage Ranch. He promotes the program through social media, annual reports, an E newsletter, and a soon-to-be produced podcast. He also helps with fundraising by working with local businesses, donors and churches in the community.

“The Heritage Ranch program is a journey of small victories and defeats,” he said, describing an adolescent in the program who refused to engage with the staff. At first, the boy wouldn’t come out of his room, and when he finally did, he refused to wear the appropriate clothing. For a time, he refused to participate in group activities. But in just a few days, his attitude changed. One morning, he joined the other boys for a game of basketball, and they cheered and welcomed him. “These were all small steps,” Atwell said, “but they were steps in the right direction.”

“What we’re doing here is life-changing. It’s transformative,” Ellis said. “We want the kids to experience the love of Christ and instill in them the values Christ modeled for us. We want them to know that the people in our lives may hurt and disappoint us … but God is always here for us and he loves us unconditionally.”

Ellis’ master plan is to eventually have 10 houses that serve 60 boys and girls – and to provide counseling for 200 to 300 family members. Considering the work she is doing and the difference she’s making in the lives of so many families, it will certainly be worth the wait.

“This isn’t easy work,” she said. “It requires the Lord to work through us in order to be successful.”

There are many ways to support Heritage Ranch. Volunteers are welcome on the first Saturday of each month. Anyone interested in volunteering should visit the website at hrbr.org to apply. The website also includes more details about the program and its staff, and opportunities to donate. You can also call (225) 658-1800.

Residents and staff members pose for a photo at Heritage Ranch.
Game night!
An annual golf tournament is one of Heritage Ranch’s major fundraisers.
Bike rides are a favorite activity at Heritage Ranch.
Healthy Life, June 2017

New Research Provides INSIGHT into MAINTAINING WEIGHT LOSS

 

New research provides
Insight
into
MAINTAINING
WEIGHT LOSS

Keeping off the pounds for good once they’re gone can often be even more challenging than losing the weight—but what if an accountability partner could increase your chances of staying trim?

New research shows that maintaining weight loss may be improved through regular contact with someone who can help keep you accountable

In a research study published in the journal Obesity , scientists found that people who received regular telephone calls with a specialist could better overcome barriers to weight maintenance, and keep weight off more successfully than people who did not receive regular counseling.

LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center was one of four U.S. sites that participated in the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial, aimed at comparing three different strategies for maintaining weight loss. The study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

During phase one of the study, volunteers participated in a six-month weight loss program. Those who lost more than 8.8 pounds during that time continued on to phase two of the program, a two and a half year weight maintenance phase. During those two and a half years, participants were assigned to one of three groups.

The first group was encouraged to continue using the tools they received during the weight loss phase —calorie counting, adherence to the DASH diet and physical activity monitoring. The second group had around-the-clock access to a website where they could check in regularly to report their weight status and receive advice. The third group received monthly telephone calls from an interventionist who provided motivational counseling and helped participants try to overcome barriers to maintaining their weight.

At the end of those two and a half years of weight maintenance, researchers found that without personal
contact, participants tended to regain lost weight; while participants with access to personal help and support kept the weight off better than the other two groups. Continuing personal support beyond two and a half years did not further improve weight maintenance.

The concept of personal motivation and support in maintaining weight loss may seem elementary. “After decades of research, scientists have learned how to produce highly effective methods for weight loss, but we still have not completely cracked the code on maintaining that weight loss. This study provides a foundation for us to move forward in improving ways in which we help people prevent weight regain,” said Dr. Phil Brantley, associate executive director for scientific education at Pennington Biomedical and an author on this study,

“This study is unique in that it had one of the largest and most diverse populations to take part in it. We looked at weight maintenance among people of varying genders, races, ages and risk factors. It was also one of the longest-running studies of its kind, so it provided us with a closer look at how different weight loss strategies can work over time,” added Brantley.

Pennington Biomedical is continuing its work to better understand the triggers of chronic disease such as obesity, and seek sound strategies for losing weight and keeping it off. For more information on how you can volunteer for one of Pennington Biomedical’s research studies, please visit www.pbrc.edu/healthierLA or call 225-763-3000.

Doctor

Dr. Phillip Brantley is the Associate Executive Director for Scientific Education for Pennington Biomedical Research Center. He earned his bachelor of science degree from Georgia College and State University,
Masters and Ph.D., University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 1980, Clinical Psychology, and completed his clinical psychology internship at Medical University of South Carolina and Charleston VAMC. His research interests include Weight loss techniques that promote long term weight management and their impact on biomarkers and health outcomes.

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