For more than 30 years, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children has served the needs of abused, abandoned, and neglected children in both Nevada and the San Antonio area.

In order to streamline operations and serve children in their respective locations more effectively, both areas began operating independently from one another in May, and the San Antonio entity was renamed SJRC. The main reason for the amicable split was for both entities to focus on local issues and fundraising without having to divert the business and financial transactions to the Nevada headquarters.

SJRC Chief Executive Officer Tara Roussett said that the San Antonio ranch’s change to an independent nonprofit will make it easier to raise funds in the city. The organization’s motto – “raise here, stay here” – reflects this change, she said.

The restructuring, she added, has already resulted in a decrease of overhead costs.

“We went from 35% overhead to 12%,” Roussett said. “And, for the first time, we have all local staff including an accountant, a comptroller, a human resources department, and payroll.”

The entrance to the St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Bulverde. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
The entrance to the St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Bulverde. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

An exciting challenge that came with the change, Roussett said, is the opportunity to raise local funds in order to serve the community. The new SJRC fundraising office is reaching out to individual, corporate, and foundation donors to spread the word about the new operations. Individuals who choose to donate will contribute to the approximately 70% of funding for a per diem that each child receives under SJRC’s care, provided by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).

SJRC will work to raise awareness and bring in committed donors so that the organization can solidify its long-term sustainability plan.

The ranch has strong roots in Bexar and Comal counties, as the organization started with the Hamilton family of Bulverde who fostered children in their own home, and later turned over operations to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Nevada.

Currently, SJRC cares for nearly 200 children from San Antonio and the surrounding area – many of them referred by Child Protective Services (CPS). Approximately 60% of them have been physically abused and 40% have suffered sexual abuse. SJRC acts as a safe haven for those children and families, offering help so that they can begin the healing process.

With campuses in Bulverde and New Braunfels, children and young adults who need a place to live are given the necessary support and skills to heal and lead independent and productive lives. When possible, siblings are kept together so that they can begin to heal as a family. All children attend local public schools and 90% of the youth at the two campuses are from Bexar, Comal, and surrounding counties.

The Bulverde campus has five small homes with 38 beds situated amid open spaces dotted with play areas shaded by trees. Each home has a living room, dining room, and bedrooms, and provides children and staff with as much of a home-like atmosphere as possible.

All of the children are asked to complete age-appropriate chores, including making their own beds, doing their laundry, and getting ready to leave for school on time. The average stay for each resident is around one year.

Soft-spoken, 18-year-old David said he moved from an emergency shelter to SJRC in Bulverde about a year ago.

“At first I was a little uncomfortable,” he said, “but I knew I would like it here. I was determined to like it. It is not a shelter, it is a home.”

After living in a shelter, David was heartened by the warm welcome he received at SJRC from both staff and residents. During his stay at SJRC, he said he has made close, lasting relationships that he knows he will cherish and maintain over time.

“I’m the oldest in my house, which has eight people living in it,” he said. “Since I’m the oldest, I think they may look up to me a little. I consider us family, with rotating parents. Living here is like a school within itself. The other kids are my brothers and sisters. I love having long conversations with the staff about everything. I’d say that some of the staff members are my best friends.”

David, 18, made SJRC in Bulverde his home a year ago and plans to attend UTSA to study biology. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

In January, David will start classes at the University of Texas at San Antonio with plans to major in biology or radiology. He currently works as a barista to save money for some of his upcoming expenses.

“I’d like to eventually get a master’s in biology. I want to be able to have a good job that I love,” David said. “But I know I will always come back (to SJRC) to visit. This is my home. I’ve learned the most valuable life lessons here. I know that the changes I’ve been through since I came here are big. Having a real support system made all the difference in my life.”

The New Braunfels campus, which opened in 2009, also has room for 24 teen mothers and their children. The mothers have their own rooms and share a bathroom with a suite mate. The average stay is also one year.

Girls are accepted while pregnant or in the early stages of parenting and all medical care is included. The goal is to provide the young mothers with the skills necessary to break the cycle of foster care. The license for the campus is for girls aged 10-17, but the mothers can stay until they are 21. SJRC staff also serves as a safety net for the mothers, as they provide care, assistance, and guidance. Additionally, the New Braunfels campus has an emergency shelter for children, which allows stays up to 90 days.

The new San Antonio office’s Child Placement Agency provides training and licensing for foster homes. Before a child is placed with a foster family, SJRC issues extensive background checks and performs home studies on all families. Follow-up includes monthly announced and unannounced checks on the families, court assistance, and adoption services. Staff is on call 24/7 to assist families if necessary.

The foster program through SJRC ensures that families who open their homes to help the children are carefully screened when they apply to participate. In addition to fostering, SJRC’s office also received licensing to facilitate adoptions in June.

“I think it is an extremely exciting time for SJRC Texas as the separation from St. Jude’s Ranch in Nevada gives us the independence to make decisions that will better serve the children in this region and ensure the mission my parents began 32 years ago continues for years and years to come,” said SJRC Community Advisory Board member Bill Hamilton, a member of the original founding SJRC family.

To introduce the San Antonio community to the changes and new programs that will benefit the abused, abandoned, and at-risk children in the area, the St. Jude’s Ranch for Children will host a free ‘friendraiser’ luncheon on Wednesday, Aug. 31 from 11:30 a.m.-1: p.m. at Sunset Station, 1174 E. Commerce St.

Keynote speakers include Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, State Sen. José Menéndez (D26), and Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau.

To RSVP, click here.

Top image: David, 18, moved to SJRC in Bulverde about a year ago after living in an emergency shelter.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. 

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Kathy Hamilton

Kathy Hamilton is a reformed foreign journalist who, along with her son, is rediscovering her hometown.