Building a sense of courage to live life to the fullest and to help youth grow into the best versions of themselves. This is how Tim Price, director of outdoor education at Methodist Children’s Home, passionately describes the goal of the program.
“The objective is to give these kids every opportunity they didn’t have before,” Price said. “We want to make sure they take something valuable away from MCH after their time with us. Our priority is for them to understand we will always be there for them and support them.”
The Outdoor Education program, set on the sprawling, 500-acre MCH Boys Ranch, is open to boys living on the ranch as well as youth from the Waco campus. MCH hopes to open up these opportunities to others outside the organization in the future.
The program expanded in the latter half of 2020 as staff looked for ways to keep youth at the ranch engaged and active during the ongoing pandemic. The team focused on nurturing a culture of learning while being flexible with added safety and health guidelines during the uncertain times.
“Our program is comprehensive,” Price said. “We have just about everything you’d want to do outdoors.”
Activities are centered on building relationships and skills participants can apply in other areas of their lives. They include the 50-foot Alpine Tower challenge course, fishing, kayaking, horsemanship, and gardening. Classes in hunter’s safety and agriculture science are also available to everyone. In addition, youth are taught how to care for chicks and ducklings in the poultry barn and how to maintain the fisheries at the ranch. Several youth recently built an aquaponics lab which has already yielded a crop of vegetables and herbs. Aquaponics is a form of agriculture in which nutrient-rich water from fish tanks provides a natural fertilizer for plants, which in turn help purify the water for the fish.
“The guys do it all,” Price said. “They take ownership of the projects and really want to be here. There’s a lot of responsibility and I’m very proud of them. There’s a measurable outcome. So, I can actually track their growth.”
Price said he maintains a database that shows each person’s progress on a weekly and monthly basis. Participants are scored on each activity and given a rank such as “beginner” or “apprentice.” Price said the ranking system is something the students pride themselves on and work to level up.
Dalton and Austen, 15-year-old residents at the ranch, are avid participants in the program and have excelled in horsemanship.
“My favorite part of the program is definitely being able to ride and build a relationship with the horses,” Dalton said. “If you don’t build a relationship, they won’t get to know you and they won’t really listen to you.”
We empower kids to feel confident. When they are confident with a 1,200-pound horse, it helps them realize they can feel the same way in their relationships with other people in any situation.
Not all students are as comfortable around the animals in the beginning. Price recalled *Sam’s journey in the program and said his story is just one of many that exemplifies the program’s purpose. He said the 16-year-old was terrified of horses but gradually started to feed them from across a fence. Sam began to develop more trust in the horses and Price shared that Sam can confidently ride horses now.
“We empower kids to feel confident,” Price said. “When they are confident with a 1,200-pound horse, it helps them realize they can feel the same way in their relationships with other people in any situation.”
Price explained he teaches his students how to apply the “Ask, Tell, Command” strategies when handling the horses.
“Every single aspect of the program is built to teach them something, including how to interact in different relationships,” Price said. “They can develop a bond with an animal and apply those lessons to their human connections. They learn to gain and give the respect needed in those relationships.”
Another goal of the Outdoor Education program is to help participants develop marketable products. Youth have made ant poison – which is not harmful to humans – to help control fire ants. They have also made their own version of fertilizer using the emulsion from the fish in the aquaponics lab and fisheries with other ingredients. Price said their next goal is to start making soaps and other products to sell at local farmers markets.
The future for the program will include building a campground near one of the six lakes on the Boys Ranch. After Price and his team developed the ideas, the First United Methodist Church of Rockwall stepped in and provided the funds for the project through the church’s Lenten offering. The contribution will build a canopy at the site and have crushed gravel laid down in those areas. Price hopes the new campground will create a greater sense of comradery among the youth.
“I believe it will help them build comradery and trust as they share stories around the campfire,” Price said. “The new campsite will transform into another safe place where they can freely express themselves away from whatever situation they were in previously.”
Opportunities through the Outdoor Education program help youth develop a sense of hope for the future and a sense of satisfaction for a job well done. For Price, working with the boys is a true calling.
“It should be all about them and that’s how the Outdoor Education program at MCH operates,” Price said. “We’re not just molding our kids to be better – we’re helping our staff grow into better caregivers as well. This certainly has made me a better person. Our program is just an evolution of goodness.”