Eagle Ranch encompasses 315 acres off Union Church Road in Chestnut Mountain and looks more like a retreat than a place for families in crisis. Rolling hills are dotted with the boys’, girls’ and staff members’ homes, while the man-made lake and peaceful chapel are a serene escape from the bustle of everyday life.
The faith-centered Eagle Ranch started as a dream for founder Eddie Staub, but over the past 35 years has grown into something much larger and inspirational. And what Staub and the rest of the Eagle Ranch staff have accomplished over the last several decades is just as beautiful as the land it rests on.
“Everything we do at Eagle Ranch comes from our ‘why’. Why do we exist and why do we do what we do,” said Staub. “It really comes out of two places. First, my greatest desire is that Eagle Ranch would be a tangible expression of God’s goodness and power. The second is that we would be the hands and feet of Jesus to hurting children.”
The purpose of Eagle Ranch is to provide an option for struggling families whose children are experiencing the effects at home. Children come to stay at Eagle Ranch within their residential program for anywhere from eighteen months to two years and participate in counseling and other activities with the intention of returning home. Because of Eagle Ranch, many children have diverted their lives from going down a bad path.
“We’re helping children and families that need a longer length of stay, that need a longer time that they would come and be treated for whatever the child needs,” said Stefanie Long, Director of Communications for Eagle Ranch.
Staub started Eagle Ranch as a boys-only program in 1985, then added the girls’ program in 2001. Today the two residential programs include enough homes to house 42 boys and 24 girls ages eight to 15 years old. Each home includes married “houseparents”, a program assistant and a licensed counselor to provide a safe, stable and structed homelife. Boys and girls are kept separate but participate in the same day-to-day activities as if they were still at their own homes.
The ranch even includes a school on the property for residents who are within the middle school age range. Residents that are outside of this age range attend public schools then return to the ranch in the evening.
Most children are hesitant to come to the ranch at first, but Eagle Ranch offers plenty of recreational outlets for their residents to enjoy themselves. A gymnasium and an outdoor pool are located near the boys’ homes. A barn close to the girls’ homes houses the equine therapy program. And each group of homes is built around a large field with a playground and plenty of space for the children to enjoy the outdoors.
Eagle Ranch is privately funded and operates debt-free. Over the years the non-profit has grown to include several famous names on its Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, including Vince Dooley, Dan Quinn and Dan Cathy.
“Everything is supported by the community and that’s huge for us,” said Long.
Sportscaster Ernie Johnson, Jr. spoke at the non-profit’s 35th anniversary dinner on March 8th and focused on how important Eagle Ranch is to the community.
“You can’t lose sight of the fact that there are families that are broken and shattered all over the place. What Eddie has done and what Eagle Ranch has done is make it their life purpose to repair those fractures,” said Johnson. “It takes a special bunch of people to do that.”
While Eagle Ranch staff are grateful for the supportive community, they give the most credit to the non-profit’s faith-based foundation. Counseling programs and activities for the children are intertwined with Christian principals. The name Eagle Ranch even comes from the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31, which teaches that those who rely on God will “soar on wings like eagles.”
This strong faith is taking Eagle Ranch into the next phase- the opening of the new Wings Center in 2021. This 10,000 square foot facility will help Eagle Ranch to reach even further into the community with more non-residential programs. The Wings Center will house Eagle Ranch’s Wings Initiative, which offers advice to other children’s programs and non-profits in the area, as well as counseling services to more families in the community.
While Staub and the rest of the Eagle Ranch staff are excited for what is to come, he also took a moment to reflect on the milestone of 35 years.
“When I look back on 35 years I’m amazed at God’s protection and his provision. And he’s done it through a community of people that have believed in our mission and have believed in our ‘why’ and their faithfulness is the reason Eagle Ranch is still vibrant and looking to expand to do more things going into the future,” said Staub.
Staub will often summarize the past and the future of Eagle Ranch in one simple phrase, “To God be the Glory.”