In the Spring of 2018, nine students graduated from Dakota Memorial School--eight in Minot and one in Fargo.
Their stories are inspiring--how they came to the Ranch, the barriers that got in their way, their ultimate success, and their plans.
Two of our graduates asked us to share their stories--hoping to inspire both the students who come after them, and the Ranch donors who made their success possible. Here are their stories of courage and perseverance.
When Shawn and his twin brother were only three years old, they were removed from the custody of their parents, who were good people struggling with the demon of alcoholism. They were placed with a relative, who filed first for guardianship and then adoption.
Their adoptive mom moved them from home to home, and when the boys were school-aged, from school to school. Shawn and his brother spent their time in front of the television, were often hungry, and their clothes were too small and filthy.
"My adoptive mom always treated my twin brother and me differently than she treated her children," Shawn said. "We were abused and beaten, and got a little lecture once in a while. When I was old enough to work, I worked two jobs to help her pay the bills, and I still got treated differently."
When they moved to North Dakota, Shawn said he and his brother were home-schooled. "She kept telling me I was going to get my diploma, but all we did is watch TV and play video games all day."
In an unconscious attempt to get himself out of a bad situation, Shawn started acting out. He became belligerent, non-compliant, sometimes violent. After being placed in several out-of-home placements, he came to the Ranch as "incorrigible" and way behind in school. He was old enough to be a junior but had only enough credits to qualify as a freshman.
In his time at the Ranch, Shawn grew (literally - he's now 6'2"), and studied, and went to chapel. He listened, learned, and laughed. He applied for, and received, an on-campus job, then an off-campus job. He went to therapy and Wildlife Club and studied some more. In just one year, Shawn earned enough credits to graduate from high school.
"You know how people do full-time school," Shawn said. "Well, I did overtime school. The hardest class I took was anatomy."
"I wanted to quit that class so bad. I was raised to be a quitter. If I had a job I didn't like, I just quit because that's what I was told to do. I tried to do that here, but the teachers and Mrs. DeGree [Dakota Memorial School-Minot, Principal] wouldn't let me. That was the hardest class in the school and I made a C in it. I'm proud of that!"
Shawn graduated from Dakota Memorial School on time and having truly earned it. In his graduation speech, he said, through tears, his only regret for the day was that his brother didn't have the opportunity to come to the Ranch, and so is not graduating from high school.
While at the Ranch, Shawn reconnected with his birth father, who is now sober and doing well. His father drove from Oklahoma to North Dakota to be with Shawn on his big day--and they are starting a new and exciting chapter in their father-son relationship--a relationship filled with love and support.
"I grew up with people shutting down my dreams," Shawn said. "Here I learned if I work hard I can reach them."
Maddie grew up around drugs--they were always around when she visited her dad. Because she saw him try to quit many times, and fail, she remembers telling herself she was never going to try drugs or alcohol. But, then it started to look normal.
"I started hanging out with the wrong people. First, I smoked pot, and then I moved to alcohol. And then I got depressed," Maddie said.
Maddie started getting in trouble at school and at home, and eventually social services got involved. She was hospitalized a couple times for depression, spent time in juvenile detention, lived with a foster family, her grandma, an aunt, a family friend, and several times moved back home with her mom.
She spent seven months at the Ranch in 2015. "When I moved back home I stayed clean and sober for a while," Maddie said. "It was hard to find friends, so I didn't have anybody to hang out with. I went back to my old friends and got in trouble again."
After a couple of difficult years, Maddie decided she was ready to live the life she learned about at the Ranch. She returned to the Ranch in March 2017 and graduated from Dakota Memorial School in 2018.
"I like it here. I'm doing way better than ever. I've been clean for a whole year now. And when I'm here, my relationships with my family are so much stronger," Maddie said.
"In school, I get the support I need. I learn differently than others, and the teachers here teach to my understanding. If I don't understand something, I'm not afraid to ask questions. At my old school, they just handed me the assignment and told me to figure it out."
One of the most valuable lessons Maddie learned at the Ranch was to trust. She learned how to trust others, especially adult men.
"I struggle with trusting adult males because of my dad. I saw him abuse his girlfriend. Then he moved away, and I didn't see him for several years," Maddie said. "It's like I'm afraid of men and it was hard for me to be next to them. Mr. [Jim] Miller [long-time Ranch English teacher] proved to me I can trust him. He's always been kind, and I really trust him. That's something I definitely needed in my life."
As for graduation, Maddie was thrilled to prove to her family and friends she could do it. She never expected to graduate, thinking she would drop out and work the rest of her life. "Now I'm actually going to miss school, and the fun times I had here," Maddie said. "Honestly, without the Ranch, I'd probably be dead from using drugs or suicide. I think about that some days--if it wasn't for this place, I would not be alive."
These are stores from just two of our strong, smart, and amazing kids.
The financial support and prayers of Ranch donors make it possible for children like Shawn and Maddie to take part in this great achievement. High school graduation--something many of our kids never expected to experience.