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News doesn’t reflect typical ranch experience

A s one of the boys who lived at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch from 1968-70, I feel it is important to give some perspective about the ranch.

My story is not unique. In fact, it reflects the experiences of the vast majority of former residents.

As a young man, I was beyond the control of my mother, who as a single parent loved me but could not deal with my defiant and confrontational manner. She tried many things before turning to Morning Star Boys’ Ranch but felt it was the best place for me at the time. She was right.

During my time at the ranch, Father Joe Weitensteiner was like a parent to me. He gave all the boys the support, attention, guidance and help that others did not. Some have suggested that there is no need today for a facility like Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. Sadly, this is not true.

Today there is a waiting list of boys of varying races and denominations who need the ranch’s help. Boys from failed adoptions and broken homes have few options. Boys dealing with a complicated range of mental health and behavioral issues can find support, healing and a path to success at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch.

This was also the case 35 years ago. For boys like me, the ranch offered a structured environment and leadership that encouraged small steps toward self-respect, respect for others and respect for authority.

These ideals and virtues were made available, but could not be guaranteed. My experience was that, given enough time, most boys responded.

What I did see at the ranch was effective discipline that was necessary and appropriate. Discipline is an element of respect for self, others and authority. I learned that if I studied hard, I would be rewarded; that if I did chores well, I would receive preferred jobs; and that if I behaved appropriately, I would earn privileges.

I was also taught that breaking rules or showing disrespect for others would result in consequences. In my case, discipline ranged from loss of a privilege, such as seeing a movie or participating in a sporting event, to having to write a 1,000-word essay, to one instance of a hack for a fist fight.

The lessons I learned at Morning Star, the support and love I felt from the staff there and the structure they provided helped me to become a better person.

Sadly, I recognize not every boy has been able to get beyond the circumstances that made him a candidate for the ranch. As some consolation, I know this: If Father Joe could have guaranteed a happy and connected life for every boy, he would have.

My concern about some recent media coverage is that it has focused on dated viewpoints of a few whose charges cannot always be corroborated. The ranch cannot respond to these charges because of the strict rules regarding personal privacy rights.

By focusing on dated, incomplete, or biased charges of a few, some media create an unbalanced and unrepresentative picture of Morning Star – an institution that has helped so many.

Life leaves us all with scars. I have genuine empathy for the few boys who perceived their experiences as negative. I know firsthand that Morning Star provided a nurturing environment that helped me, and others, build a foundation for a successful life.

A total of 1,277 boys have been helped by Morning Star Boys’ Ranch so far. There are even more who will need the ranch’s support in the future.

I ask the greater Spokane community to weigh this as it continues to evaluate the past, present and future of the ranch.

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