A Brighter Future
Willow Springs Boys Ranch offers youth a second chance
Residents at the Willow Springs Boys Ranch in Chandler, Oklahoma look to the future with hope with house parents Justin and Abi White. Photo by Miguel Rios
Since he was very young, Adolfo Olivas sensed something was wrong with the way he was living, but he wasn’t sure how things could ever change.
By the time he was nearing 14, Olivas was dealing with anger problems and a lack of self-discipline, most of which were stoked by instability in his home life.
For years at their home in Stephens County, Olivas, his sister and two brothers had listened to their parents’ disagreements.
Olivas’ father eventually left the family. His mother was working two or three jobs trying to provide for the four children. There was little structure in their lives.
“There were family issues that had been going on a long time. There was lots of loud arguing,” Olivas said. “I seemed to be mad a lot.”
Searching for an outlet, Olivas was making poor decisions and began running with a group of young males who didn’t have his best interests at heart.
Then things began to change for the better.
“There were folks in Stephens County who were missionaries and could speak Spanish, and they got to know Adolfo through tutoring him. They got in touch with us and in August 2016 he joined us,” said Derin Carr, executive director at Willow Springs Boys Ranch.
The Ranch provides a learning, inspirational and safe environment for boys in need, at-risk or in a family crisis.
There were rough times at the outset as Olivas adjusted to living with five other boys in a group house at Willow Springs. He wasn’t used to the emphasis on structure and supervision that guides the facility west of Chandler, Oklahoma.
Now 16, Olivas has become a leader among his peers, and he looks to the future with hope.
“Coming to the ranch was a huge adjustment for me,” the sophomore whose younger brother Ramon also moved to the ranch last year—said. “Coming here has given me a chance to be in sports, to meet new people and to have a better future. We get a lot of support here and we learn about self-discipline.”
Carr, an Ardmore native, and Todd Vinson, who grew up in Duncan, were roommates at the University of Oklahoma in the 1990s and shared an interest in helping at-risk youth.
Vinson’s uncle donated 180 acres of land in Lincoln County and Carr, who got a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College in Illinois, came aboard as executive director at Willow Springs in 1994. The facility officially opened in 1998. The goal of the ranch is to provide boys with a safe, loving, nurturing and Christian environment as long as they’re in need. And there are many who are in need, Carr noted.
“Our kids are at-risk kids, but they are not in the state system or the foster system or the Department of Juvenile Affairs. A majority of them are from unstable situations and could end up in the system if they continue, but Willow Springs is a private facility that operates solely on private donations and fundraising. We receive no state or federal funds,” he said.
Served by Central Electric Cooperative, Willow Springs’ facilities include the main house, in which Carr resides with his wife, Kelly, and their children, Camden, Cooper and Clara.
At present, there are two housing units, each capable of housing six males between the ages of 7 and 12, although there are some exceptions made to the age limit. House parents Justin and Abi White and their son, Titus, live at the Liddell House. A second unit is the McClendon House, which is undergoing renovations.
All of the boys attend Chandler Public Schools. At the ranch, they are assigned tasks in the day-by-day routine, such as helping maintain the grounds or assisting with house cleaning.
Most importantly, they are expected to follow some basic guidelines and rules.
“We’re in this for the long run,” Carr said. “I tell them up front this is not a boot camp and it is not a treatment center.”
Carr wants the boys to see living at the ranch an opportunity—not a sentence.
“When they are here, we know there is one part of them that wants to be here and another part of them doesn’t want to be here, but we have pretty mild rules and expectations,” he said. “We want them to learn to be responsible and respectful, and to realize it’s fun to be here, especially compared to where they come from.”
Carr estimated that since 1994 about 100 young males have taken a step toward changing their lives thanks to the Willow Springs program.
“We’ve had some boys we felt were leaving prematurely, but whether it’s long-term or short-term, we hope we’ve done well in modeling family life for them,” he said. “We are planting seeds for down the road.”
For information on Willow Springs Boys Ranch, contact Carr at 405-258-6499 or the main office at 405-258-5176. You can also check the website www.willowspringsboysranch.com.