Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches
Arkansas Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch, Inc., was founded in 1976 as an exclusively charitable and educational organization for “the prevention of cruelty to boys, by providing a home, ranch, and training school for underprivileged boys.” The organization was created to provide a non-governmental residential childcare program for boys from all Arkansas counties. Today, Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, Inc., provides residential and non-residential services to both boys and girls.
The organization was incorporated on January 6, 1976, after two years of planning. In the early 1970s, a group of sheriffs asked the seventy-five-member Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association (ASA) to help develop a children’s home that would rely on the generosity of Arkansans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, some of these sheriffs had helped with the placement of boys in area residential group homes and had been very disappointed with the results. Several sheriffs were informed that residents in existing children’s homes were receiving less than satisfactory care. They felt with their ongoing involvement, they could assure the public that the children would be well cared for.
The sheriffs voted in 1974 to create the Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch Committee to research the practicality of establishing a ranch for boys. Additionally, the committee researched and visited other ranch programs established by sheriffs in other Southern states. The committee decided to involve the business community and to use the states’ sheriffs for community support. The committee wanted to make sure that the home it established would address the educational, health, and spiritual aspects of a boy’s life. The committee decided that a separate, freestanding non-profit organization should be established with the majority of board members being non-sheriffs—if all Arkansas sheriffs would support it. Pope County sheriff Bill Abernathy was chairman of the committee, and Johnson County sheriff Donald Meek was secretary. The ASA voted to assure the business community that Arkansas sheriffs would support the new organization unanimously. The sheriffs chose private sector funding as opposed to governmental funds to guarantee more freedom in program development. Abernathy, Meek, and other members of the committee spent three months traveling to every county in Arkansas and meeting with each sheriff to gain support. In late 1975, an incorporation document with the signatures of all seventy-five sheriffs was presented to the ASA.
In January 1976, ASA president Floyd Johnson of Craighead County announced the creation of Arkansas Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch, Inc. The organization was incorporated in Russellville (Pope County) with headquarters in Jonesboro (Craighead County), Johnson’s hometown. The initial twenty-eight-member board contained thirteen sheriffs (seven of whom would be presidents of the association) in addition to businesspeople from fourteen counties.
A search committee was formed to find property for the first campus. The committee chose a 528-acre site on the White River near Batesville (Independence County). The corporate headquarters was moved to Batesville in 1977. Two boys (ages seven and five) were admitted to the program during construction of the first cottage, which was dedicated on October 10, 1977. In December 1977, the ranch signed a ten-year lease on a facility near Harrison (Boone County) for a girls’ ranch. (The organization began doing business as the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Boys and Girls Ranches in 1977, but the name was not legally changed until 1998.)
In 1985, the organization developed a donated site on the Spring River in Sharp County to replace the leased Boone County campus. A third campus on DeGray Lake in Clark County began admitting children in 2003. The Donald W. Reynolds Campus near Mulberry (Crawford County) opened in 2005. The mission of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches was expanded in 1994 to address, remedy, and prevent child abuse and neglect by creating safe, secure, healthy, and permanent homes for children.
In 1991, due to the demand for services, the program was expanded to include non-residential services. Through 2008, the ranch has provided residential care to more than 900 children. However, in February 2009, the facility in Sharp County was converted to a non-residential campus, largely due to an economic decline which greatly reduced charitable giving. The ranch currently serves more than 150 families per month in its various outreach programs.
For additional information:
Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, Inc. http://www.youthranches.com (accessed August 26, 2023).
Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, Inc.
My dad, the late retired Sheriff Larry Morris, was one of the five founders of the ranches. He signed the loan to get the ranch off the ground. He served as sheriff of Monroe County for twenty-six years and then county judge for six years before dying in office on March 25, 2010. He loved children and hated child abuse. I would love to see him and the other four founders recognized more.
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