Last spring, Aaron Waldron responded to a Ranch social media requesting asking people to send Easter messages for our kids. On the form he completed, Aaron listed his address as Scotland. We were super excited to hear from someone in Scotland who cared about our kids. And, even more excited to hear Aaron had lived at the Ranch in the late 1980s. He was very grateful for the care he received and wanted to share his story in the hopes it would encourage others to seek help for their children. Here is Aaron's story.
The Ranch changed the trajectory of Aaron Waldron's life.
"I think my life would have taken a very different path if it weren't for the Ranch," Aaron said.
Aaron came to the Ranch in the late 1980s after threatening to hit his mom. He didn't hit her and said he hadn't planned on hitting her, but she had an abusive childhood and refused to put up with any violence in her home. He moved across the state to live with his dad, but that didn't last because he wasn't able to get along with his stepmother.
"I was an angry kid," Aaron said. "I drank a lot and didn't want to follow their rules."
The last straw was when Aaron got into a fight with his stepmother. "I threw things around and broke a window," he said. "My dad called the police and I spent the weekend in detention."
When Aaron went in front of the court, the judge debated between sending him to the Jamestown Hospital or Dakota Boys Ranch (now Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch). Fortunately, the judge chose to send Aaron to the Ranch.
"Jamestown State Hospital was my only other option and that wouldn't have been good," Aaron said. "They wouldn't have addressed any of the issues that led me to behave in those ways. I'm not sure where I'd be without the intervention of the Ranch."
Aaron remembers very vividly the day his father dropped him off at the Ranch. "I was terrified. We drove into this strange place, and then after getting me settled, my dad drove away and left me there."
He lived in Butt Cottage for one year, with houseparents Sam and Lloyd. While Aaron was at the Ranch, he worked with therapist Bert Bailey and learned how to express his anger in more appropriate ways.
"Sam, Lloyd, and everyone at the Ranch was super supportive," Aaron said. "They all really cared about me and encouraged me. They met me where I was at. I was doing well in school (all of my problems were at home), so I was able to attend Minot High School where I was involved in theater and band. I even got to go on a band trip to Chicago while I was there!"
Bailey spent a great deal of time helping Aaron understand where his anger was coming from. "He took the time to ask me leading questions to help me develop my own understanding and conclusions; and was always sure not to tell me how I felt. As I look back on our time together, I feel like he was really keen on helping me to be mindful and intentional in my actions."
Bailey also taught Aaron how to assume good intent.
Aaron said, "If someone is dismissive or terse, my gut reaction is to take it personally. Most likely, that person is completely oblivious to my existence and had no intent at all. Patience, mindfulness, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt are all things Bert ultimately helped to cement for me as a young adult."
In addition to the work he did in therapy, Aaron learned the value of hard work. "Even though I grew up in the Midwest, I'd never been exposed to Ranch life," Aaron said. "I rode horses and did some work around campus—and got paid! I liked to golf, so Sam and Lloyd took me golfing. It was a great atmosphere and I got the opportunity to experience things I wouldn't have otherwise had the chance to experience."
Aaron believes one of the most important things that happened at the Ranch was a re-introduction to God. "I had a bad taste in my mouth about religion," he said. "My uncle showed me movies about the evils of other religions. The God I knew was very judgmental. At the Ranch, everyone was just the opposite—accepting and non-judgmental. I left with an entirely different view of God."
The Ranch wasn't a magic pill that immediately turned his life around, Aaron said. He did great while he was at the Ranch, but after he left, it took him a while to get life figured out. Actually, quite a long while.
Aaron said, "I really didn't get my act together until I was in my mid-30s."
After a year at the Ranch, Aaron moved to Seattle to live with his mom. He graduated from high school there, and then bounced around from job to job. After moving to Florida where he met his wife, Aaron said some of what he learned at the Ranch started to kick in.
Aaron completed both his undergraduate and master's degrees, and has now settled into a career he loves. He works in university financial aid offices and enjoys helping young men and women figure out how they can go to college. When we spoke last summer, Aaron was living in Scotland while his wife was getting her PH.D. She was nearly done and they were moving back to the United States.
Aaron's travels with his wife have taken him around the world, and his journey has been very different than he imagined at age 14. Who could have believed that 30 years later that angry young man would be in a happy marriage, living in Scotland, and following a career he loved?
While Aaron did all the hard work himself, he credits the people at the Ranch with pushing him in the right direction. Aaron's houseparents and therapist at the Ranch gave him the tools he needed to move past the anger, so he could begin making better life decisions.
"I can't imagine where I'd be without the Ranch," Aaron said.