WILMINGTON – Troubled girls will have a safe place to call home come Saturday.
Stepping Stones Ranch — which was profiled in Wednesday’s News Journal — was conceived by Dar Hensley and Danielle Combs. It offers equine therapy for girls in middle and high school who have been in the juvenile system.
The girls SSR will accept and house — a total of 10 — are girls who are just beginning to get into trouble, Hensley said.
“(For kids) about 10 and older there’s really no good placement for these girls locally,” she said. “That’s really our target.”
Girls will be housed in the 3,800 square-foot home at 975 State Route 380 in Wilmington and live there with two house parents and a mentor.
SSR plans on serving troubled girls in Clinton County and five surrounding counties, Hensley said. If girls want to come to the program instead of going to a detention center, Hensley said the girls have to want to be there.
“We’re about changing lives,” she said.
SSR has not been preparing for the opening of the ranch by themselves. Luke 12 LLC was the organization that purchased the property where the ranch is located and is leasing it to SSR, said Andy Plum, member of Luke 12 LLC.
Luke 12 LLC has been working with SSR for seven years, Plum said, and Luke 2 LLC knows SSR can do great things for girls in the county.
“We feel it’s a calling for us to have this property and to have these girls lives changed out there,” he said.
The property was purchased August 2012 and, since then, SSR has been making upgrades to the property.
When the property was purchased, there was the 3,800 square-foot house and a barn. In the future, SSR plans on adding more small houses.
“We need to make sure we have a director on-site who could provide additional support to the house parents as well as some relief for the house parents,” said Danielle Combs.
So far, more than $100,000 has been spent on renovations and updates to the property, Hensley said.
“That’s just the beginning as far as we’re concerned,” she said.
The mentor who will live with the girls is a recent graduate of Wilmington College and will spend her time being like a big sister to the girls, said Katie Myers Purkey, a social worker for SSR. The mentor will even sleep in the same wing as the girls.
“We just felt that was important for ourselves for additional support and security,” Myers Purkey said.
While there have been security updates and there will be multiple people living with the girls for support and security, Combs said SSR does not want to have to worry about security all the time.
“If we have girls who are there that we really have to worry about security, then it’s not the right place for them,” she said.
When girls first come to SSR, Myers Purkey said they will have to go through an extensive application process to make sure SSR is the right fit for the girl and vice versa.
The application includes family history, court involvement and open and closed cases with Child Services.
Girls will also have to go to a doctor within five days of moving into the house for a check-up and drug test, Combs said.
Myers Purkey said the courts and Children Services are more than willing to sit down and work with SSR on any placement issues.
“We want it to be a beneficial placement for the child and beneficial for us and the girls who are already in the home,” she said. “If we’re just taking whoever, it doesn’t work. It’s not good for anybody.”
Combs said most of the girls who come through the program will be girls who were deemed truant. She said only some will have dabbled in marijuana or alcohol. None of the girls will be addicted to drugs or alcohol.
One girl who went through the equine therapy program had been charged with stealing a package of crackers off her teacher’s desk because she was hungry, Combs said. Her parents denied her food, which is why she stole the crackers in the first place. After stealing, her parents pressed charges and the girl was put on probation.
While on probation, the girl was required to wear an ankle bracelet. She was then locked out of her house by her parents and the police picked her up because she was out of the house. At the time, SSR was not ready to house girls, so the girl was sent to Troy’s lockdown facility, where she spent 90 days there, Combs said.
“This is a girl who has done nothing wrong other than steal a pack of crackers,” she said. “Those are the kind of girls we will have in our home.”
Equine therapy is offered for both the girls and family because SSR believes that the entire family needs the training, Myers Purkey said.
“We want the family to know if there’s skills they need to work on, so then when the girl’s done with our program, she’s going home to where there’s changes,” she said. “It’s hard to have her change and work hard and then go home to some place where the parents have had no tools or skills that they can help the process continue and get better.”
On Saturday, there will be girls already living in the home and more will be found in the coming months, Combs said.
“These girls are girls who have been abandoned, neglected, or abused and they just need a safe place to call home,” she said.