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Pumpkin patch to support local youth home

by Kayla Baugh | October 15, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
From left, volunteers Emily Ives, Crystal Stowe, Alice Godfrey and Candy Davis; two ranch residents (not named at request of a ranch official); and volunteers Trish Holder and Philip Ives stand outside at the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranch in Batesville. The organization will host a pumpkin patch this month to raise funds to benefit the ranch’s programs.

Hayrides, games, bouncy houses, a petting zoo, a corn pit — and you guessed it — pumpkins. What’s not to love about a pumpkin patch?

The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranch in Batesville, a group foster-care home, is gearing up for its first-ever pumpkin patch, and funds raised will benefit the organization’s programs.

Matt Cleveland, chief development officer for Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, said a variety of activities are included in the $10 admission fee. Children ages 2 and younger will get in free.

The pumpkin patch will be open Oct. 20-25 and Oct. 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; and from 1-5 p.m. Sundays, he said.

“We wanted to host an event that our ranch boys and girls would enjoy helping with, that would also raise funds for our mission and get people from the surrounding communities out to our campus,” he said. “We have a 600-acre working ranch, and it is really beautiful around this time of year. We did not have time to plant our own pumpkins this year, but we are working with Home Depot to supply the pumpkins, and First Community Bank has generously sponsored the purchase of our pumpkins this year.”

Cleveland said the pumpkin patch will feature a tractor-pulled hayride, a hay-bale maze, a petting zoo for kids, a fruit slingshot with targets in the field, a corn pit, carnival-style games and bouncy houses.

Hand-painted photo ops will also be set up throughout the field, he said, perfect for autumn-themed family photos.

“Everyone who attends gets to pick out their own pumpkin for free and receive a ticket for each of the activities. Additional tickets for activities can be purchased for $1 each, and there will be concessions available for purchase,” Cleveland said.

Concessions will include nachos, hot dogs, chips, popcorn, soda and water, he said.

Cleveland said the pumpkin patch is a good opportunity to raise awareness for the ranch’s foster-care program, while also providing something fun for the whole community.

“Our ranch boys and girls love helping with activities like this and showing visitors their home at the ranch. We also love educating people about the ranch,” he explained. “Many think because we have the word ‘sheriff’ in our name that we have kids who have been in trouble with the law. But in reality, the Sheriffs of Arkansas founded our organization over 40 years ago to be a home for children who, through no fault of their own, need a place to call home.”

Cleveland said the ranch has five cottages with up to eight children living in each one, and many kids stay at the ranch for years, until they are able to get out on their own.

Nancy Bradley Fulton, chief executive officer of the ASYR, said staff and children alike love having visitors at the ranch.

“Having a pumpkin patch is a way for our visitors to celebrate, have fun and support our mission,” she said. “I am so pleased that we can bring such a fun event to the children and families who live in the Batesville area.”

Fulton said the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches have provided safe and loving homes to thousands of children since the organization was founded 40 years ago.

“The ranch isn’t a ‘placement’; it’s a family,” she said, “and we aren’t a place that a child has to leave when they turn 18. We wish none of our teens would leave until they are secure and on their feet.”

The ranch makes a variety of impacts on children, from keeping their bellies full of food to providing physical and emotional safety, she said.

Children are given the opportunity to just be children at the ranch, she said, and to live consistent, predictable lives with adults who truly care for them.

Cleveland said the ASYR is the most rewarding organization he has ever worked for because he has seen the positive ways staff members and houseparents care for the children firsthand.

“More than 75 percent of the children who come to the ASYR come with at least one sibling. We are able to accommodate sibling groups at the ranch, so we are able to keep brothers and sisters together instead of splitting them up between separate foster homes,” Cleveland said. “We hear story after story from former ranchers who say they don’t know where they would have wound up if it were not for the stable, loving homes provided by the ASYR and our wonderful houseparents.”

Cleveland said the ranch has saved the lives of numerous children and set a positive example of what loving families can be to those who have been abused or neglected.

“I love Halloween. I am looking forward to our ranchers getting to have Halloween fun for over a week,” Fulton said. “I am also looking forward to seeing all of the children and families come out and have fun.

“I love to see little kids all dressed up and running around with big smiles on their faces. We will have lots of things to put smiles on their faces — picking out their pumpkins, petting our pigs and bunnies and mini horses, playing games and running through the maze, among other things.”

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or kbaugh@arkansasonline.com.

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