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Cokato’s Village Ranch expands to help more kids who are hurting
OCT. 10, 2011

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

COKATO, MN – Since the Village Ranch of Cokato began in 1988, it has been striving to expand its services in order to help an even greater number of children who may be hurting in the community.

It recently added a program in Hutchinson called the Village Ranch Hutchinson House, which is a transitional house that serves young men ages 15 to 19, teaching them independent living skills.

A few years ago, the Village Ranch started a new non-profit company called Village Ranch Child and Family Services to reach more children who are hurting in the communities it serves.

Village Ranch history

The Village Ranch is a home for boys who need guidance, providing them with education, skills for healthy living and building relationships, and hope for the future.

“There is low- to mid-level help needed for the kids we work with,” said executive director Scott Bakeberg. “The kids we’re working with just need support and structure in their life.”

Nearly 25 years ago, a group of community members recognized a need to provide guidance for boys who were struggling, and they decided to take action.

In 1988, a farm site was purchased, with a house big enough for 10 beds, a classroom, a kitchen, and office area.

Although its beginnings were humble, due to the need it has satisfied in the community and the surrounding area, the Village Ranch has continually expanded over the years.

Today, the Village Ranch has three resident halls, housing 34 boys who are receiving the structure and support they need to succeed, Bakeberg explained.

More than 50 students attend classes in the Village Ranch School on the campus, not all of whom are residents at the Village Ranch.

The campus also boosts a gymnasium, and an administrative building with conference rooms and private meeting areas.

There is also a cafeteria and commercial kitchen which serves meals to more than 70 residents, students, and employees every day.

“We have been able to stay so full because of the level of care that our staff provides on a daily basis – they do an awesome job,” Bakeberg said. “We feel fortunate to have the counties trust us and what we do with kids.”

Village Ranch Child and Family Services

Because the Village Ranch has been so successful, it began a new company in 2008, Village Ranch Child and Family Services (CFS), a non-profit company with a board separate from Village Ranch.

The purpose of the company is to reach out to families who are struggling with disruptive behaviors or violence in their home.

“There are a lot of hurting kids in our local community, and we wanted to find a way that we could reach out to them,” Bakeberg said. “This program started so we could catch the kids that are falling through the cracks.”

Tim Wright, Doctor of Psychology, became the director of CFS in June 2009, and was certified to provide in-home therapy and skills work that August.

In spring 2010, the company was able to begin hiring licensed mental health professionals to provide mental health services to clients, Wright said.

There are now six licensed mental health professionals on staff at CFS, who provide a number of different services, including diagnostic assessments, in-home based therapies, group therapy, crisis assistance, and individual and family therapy.

The company uses children’s therapeutic services and supports (CTSS), which are covered and certified by Minnesota Health Care Plans (MHCP).

“The goal of CTSS is to provide rehabilitative services to get the family back to normal functioning,” Wright said. “It’s critical in preventing children from sliding further down, and having to be removed from their home.”

With CTSS, strategies are taught to both parent and child to bring the family back to a normal rate of functioning, Wright added.

Referrals to the program come from parents, school staff, probation officers, or county social services, and it is reimbursed through a client’s primary insurance.

Last month, CFS was approved to begin licensing foster homes in the area for the work that it is doing, Bakeberg said.

A small number of foster homes is needed for the program in case children involved in the program have to be removed from their home, Wright added.

The goal is always reunification with the family when a child is removed from the home, and being able to license its own foster homes provides CFS with an opportunity to better serve the children who have to be placed there.

“We’re excited because we can provide more skills and training to the foster parents (licensed by CFS) to deal with the kids we place with them,” Wright said.

For the past two years, CFS has received a $38,000 Medica Foundation grant, which allows the staff to work with Minnesota’s intermediate school district 287.

Intermediate district 287 is a consortium of 12 west metro school districts offering more than 120 programs and services specially designed to help meet the unique learning needs of member district students.

The grant CFS receives is used to provide boundary curriculum to students with fetal alcohol syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, Wright said.

Village Ranch Hutchinson House

The Village Ranch Hutchinson House, located on Dale Street in Hutchinson, is a program to help young men adjust to living independently.

“There is a need for this program because there are a lot of kids who don’t have the individual living skills they need to be successful adults, and need more structure,” said program manager Bill Salmela.

Many of the young men that are a good fit for the program lack healthy role models, and need assistance building a positive work ethic and utilizing community resources, Salmela added.

“This program allows us to take the kids and get them ready for the next stage in their life, something that they are not getting from their parents or guardians,” Bakeberg said.

Young men who are enrolled in the program will be working to build numerous living skills such as budget and household management, healthy living, transportation, educational planning, seeking and maintaining a job, and using the legal system and community resources.

The program is very selective in who qualifies, and young men who consistently show aggressive behaviors, have significant mental health issues, or who have an IQ below 66 will not be accepted.

All residents at the Hutchinson House will be expected to complete high school or obtain a GED.

Those who have their diploma or GED have the option of attending Ridgewater Community College in Hutchinson.

Residents who have no interest in post-secondary education are expected to search for employment.

The house is licensed for up to 10 young men, and there are currently three enrolled in the program.

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