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Morning Star Boys’ Ranch changes name to reflect family focus

A longtime Spokane institution is getting a new name to better reflect the services it offers. Morning Star Boys’ Ranch is now Morning Star Family Center.

While the ranch continues to house troubled boys ages 6 to 18, in recent years the organization has expanded its services to include Morning Star Community Services and Morning Star Foster Care Services.

Morning Star Community Services offers a multisystems approach to family outreach, including counseling, parent education programs, equine-assisted therapy and family crisis intervention.

“We have licensed therapists and a full range of counseling services available on site,” said Don Ciavola, communications director.

The nonprofit accepts most insurance and also offers sliding-scale payment options.

By reaching out to the community, the staff hopes to be able to help a wider range of families. “A lot of families experience behavioral issues with kids,” said Ciavola.

Shelley Sutton’s family is one of them. Three years ago, she took in her three nephews who had an unstable home life. One of the boys, now 11, had an especially difficult time coping with the trauma he’d experienced.

“He got out of control and was placed at Morning Star,” Sutton said. While he received the intensive help he needed, Sutton was able to visit him. Eventually, he was able to return to her home, but the connection with Morning Star continues.

“They became my go-to people,” Sutton said. “Every week someone comes and spends an hour with him. He’s better able to handle his emotions and is not as over-reactive as he was.”

In addition to family counseling, Morning Star offers foster care support services.

“We’re licensed to train therapeutic foster parents,” Ciavola said. “There’s a tremendous shortage of foster parents statewide, but even more so for therapeutic foster parents.”

These foster parents are trained to deal with kids who have behavioral issues.

The foster care support services include parent education, individual and family counseling, and respite services. While the organization is expanding its services, Ciavola stressed that the mission of Morning Star Family Center still involves providing a safe place for boys in need. Currently, 19 boys are living at the ranch.

“These are the toughest of the tough kids – boys who have a hard time bonding with people,” he said. “These behaviors are as much of a disability as not having legs, but much less visible. Our biggest job is trying to teach the kids to like themselves.”

The goal remains to reintegrate the boys with their family of origin or find a loving foster family for them.

Family is a concept many of the boys find hard to define. During a writing assignment, a seventh-grader imagined what real family life might look like.

He wrote: Family is like a bright purple box decorated with pink party confetti.

It’s also like a playground with an epic swing set that makes an amazing rhythm.

I can imagine it in my mind, but I haven’t experienced it much except maybe on my birthday.

Ciavola hopes that as Morning Star continues to reach out into the community, more families will be able to find the help they need in times of crisis.

Sutton remains grateful for the services she’s received. She’s planning to adopt her three nephews. “We feel supported,” she said. “If we have an issue or a problem they are here immediately.”