Boys Ranch has a program that provides assistance to alumni. But it’s not working well for those who were abused while growing up there.

It’s been six months since the news broke that Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch was not the place it purported itself to be.

The nearly 80-year-old institution has long claimed that it does a great job caring for children. It portrays its founder, professional wrestler Cal Farley, as a man who was forward-thinking and compassionate toward children. The privately funded, residential facility—whose 2016-17 annual report shows revenues exceeding $48 million—takes in children often left by parents who can’t or don’t want to care for them.

According to Boys Ranch’s website, “We hold true to the values set over seven decades, and still we prepare young people to become responsible citizens.”

But last December, an article that appeared in The Guardian made public that such “preparation” often included extreme physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that spanned 40 years or more. Boys Ranch admitted that the abuses had, indeed, taken place and offered a weak apology.

It’s unclear how many children were victimized. According to Boys Ranch, about 12,000 young people have lived at the campus in its 78-year history. A Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Survivors Facebook group that was made public a year ago has grown to 75 members.

Working with Boys Ranch to get survivors help

In the early part of this year, a small group of abuse survivors and I approached Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch President and CEO Dan Adams to see if the institution would offer financial assistance to alumni struggling with long term effects of abuse, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, and poverty. (Many survivors have not pursued a legal resource, largely because they lack the resources to pay for attorneys and don’t want to relive their trauma in a public forum only to learn that their lawsuits were prohibited by Texas’ limited statute of limitations.)

Adams agreed to a conference call on January 23. At the meeting, he let us know that survivors could seek help through an alumni support program. While it’s been primarily used to pay for new graduates needing housing and scholarships, Adams assured us that the program could also be used to help alumni of all ages, including those who need therapy, medical care, housing, and transportation.

What’s more, Adams told us, the program budget—which he estimated to be more than $1 million—could be expanded if needed. “What my board and I are willing to do is apply whatever resources it takes,” said Adams, according to my careful notes. The only stipulation was that no survivor would be given money directly; instead, Boys Ranch would send checks to service providers, such as a psychologist or car repair shop.

After that meeting, we felt that Adams and other administrators stood behind the words that appear on the Boys Ranch’s Alumni Support webpage: “Cal Farley’s remains committed to our former residents into adulthood. It’s a familial bond much like that of a traditional family.”

Survivors hit roadblocks

We excitedly reported back to the survivors Facebook group what we had learned. I gave them the 800-number and email address to contact the progam. At first, things looked promising. One man who needed psychiatric care had his $60 per visit out-of-pocket costs paid for by Boys Ranch. Another man got help paying for his truck to be repaired and was promised new eyeglass lenses.

But then we began to see problems. One survivor was steered to a Boys Ranch alumni group for financial help, a group whose members have had a history of being hostile to abuse survivors. (Adams told us he would make sure no administrators brought up the alumni group again.)

It turns out some survivors already had been aware of the alumni support program. When I asked in the Facebook group if anyone had tried to access it, one man wrote, “I have contacted [the administrator of the program] several times since 2010 when I was first told they would provide help. I did this by e-mail and phone. Never got any answer. I finally just gave up.”

We met with Adams and other administrators two more times. During those meetings, we raised various concerns, such as the fact that Boys Ranch wasn’t publicizing the program as one that welcomed older alumni. Instead, the alumni support webpage only promoted services for young graduates who need to “successfully transition to independent adult life.” And it does not appear on the mobile site at all. (To nudge things along, I offered to write new copy for the webpage. At one meeting, Adams said he liked the copy and wanted to use it, but as of today, the page still has the old copy.)

The most significant change we proposed was one Adams himself had raised at our January meeting: We wanted Boys Ranch to hire an independent case manager—one with solid experience working with adults who struggle with issues stemming from childhood trauma and who had no affiliation with the institution. Adams said he would take the idea under consideration.

Our last meeting with Boys Ranch administrators was on April 13. Adams canceled our next meeting for May 1 and didn’t respond to our requests to reschedule it.

A survivor anxiously waits

Like many Boys Ranch abuse survivors, Rob Waldrup has a multitude of needs. He’s 67, lives on social security, and has a serious heart condition. He has trust issues and can get emotionally triggered. Waldrup—the same alumnus whose truck needed fixing and who needs new eyeglass lenses—lives in a small town without many services, one that’s several hours from his cardiologist in the Houston area.

But for months, Waldrup has been working on a plan to improve his situation. He’s going to move in with a friend in Houston for a few months while he waits for a spot to open up at a government subsidized apartment. But to do that, he has to put his possessions in storage. Waldrup figured out the least expensive way to do this, which was to rent a truck and hire a two-man crew. He planned to ask Boys Ranch to take care of the $450 cost which included storing his things for one month. There would be other costs which Waldrup would pay for.

But several weeks before his move date, Waldrup got some bad news—Boys Ranch would not pay the $450. When I asked Waldrup why, he wasn’t altogether sure. He said an administrator told him the institution would pay for his eyeglass lenses or the move, but not both.

I was confused, too. According to Adams, there was plenty of money to handle such a small expense. This “Sophie’s Choice” proposition seemed random and unfair and, given Waldrup’s heart condition, potentially detrimental to his emotional and physical health. I could hear the stress building in his voice as he explained the situation. “I’M STUCK LIKE A PIG IN A GATE!” he texted me.

Keeping advocates at arm’s length

On June 7, I wrote to Kim Reeves, the program administrator, asking if she would approve the moving cost. I didn’t hear back from her until 5 days later, when she emailed me that I should direct my inquiry to Dan Adams and copied him on the email. I heard from Adams the next day. He had some good news: Boys Ranch would pay for Waldrup to move his things into storage.

But Adams’ email also contained a rebuke and a disturbing warning. “The core of what we do is helping [alumni] help themselves,” he wrote, adding that he was “philosophically opposed to fostering dependency (financial or otherwise) with any client.” He added that, while he understood and appreciated my role as an advocate for survivors, “your continued involvement in our processes and decision making relative to individual clients (as with Rob) undermines our effectiveness, and we will distance ourselves from those situations.”

This was not the first time that Boys Ranch had expressed resentment about our advocacy. A few months earlier, another administrator had let me know she was offended that we were asking questions about the process survivors needed to go through when seeking help from the program. I tried to explain that, for survivors, calling Boys Ranch for help was not easy. Many don’t want to appear needy. Plus, this was an institution that had traumatized them as children and left them with lifelong challenges. (It didn’t help matters that In its winter alumni newsletter, shortly after the abuses had been publicized, Adams included a letter in which he referred to survivors’ allegations of abuse as “chatter.” He later told us he regretted using that word, but it did little to build trust among survivors.) These men would need to know what was involved before they thought about picking up the phone.

A way to improve the process

I wrote Adams back, thanking him for approving Waldrup’s moving cost. I also let him know that, for most survivors, the last thing they wanted was to become dependent on Boys Ranch. I also reiterated the idea of the institution hiring an outside person to work with this group.

Taking into account what Waldrup and others have experienced with the alumni support program, we believe that this change would make it more effective for survivors. For one thing, more would feel comfortable accessing the system. “That’s the only way to build any trust with the guys out here in survivor mode and encourage them to participate,” Waldrup told me when I asked what he thought about the idea.

We are grateful that Boys Ranch has a program that tries to help alumni overcome critical life challenges, but it’s clear that survivors of the institution need more specialized care than other alumni. Is Boys Ranch willing to improve the system so it better serves those it harmed, or will it negate their needs in an attempt to turn a blind eye to atrocities of the past?

If you spent time as a child at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, or at another faith-based institution and suffered abuse or neglect, please email us about your experience.

Janet Heimlich is the founder of the Child-Friendly Faith Project, a national, nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity that raises awareness of religious child maltreatment. Ms. Heimlich is also an award-winning journalist and the author of "Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment" (Prometheus Books), the first book to take an in-depth look at child abuse and neglect that is enabled by religious belief. For eight years, Janet freelanced as a reporter for National Public Radio. She also writes non-fiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Texas Observer. Janet has won nine journalism awards, including the Dallas Press Club’s Katie, the Houston Press Club’s “Radio Journalist of the Year,” and the Texas Bar Association’s Gavel Award. Janet received a B.A. in Communications with a minor in English from Stanford University in 1984.

14 Comments

  1. Charles Farslider
    June 16, 2018
    Reply

    I have been reading the “chatter” in the various Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch Alumni groups.
    The people who have suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of the Boy’s Ranch are also being ridiculed and having threats made towards them by the newer generation of Boy’s Ranchers. This behavior begins when ever a person attempts to speak out about their treatment.

    The hostile actions towards these survivors is the typical response of an organization that instills a firm code of silence to protect itself from their actions in the past.

    • June 16, 2018
      Reply

      Mr. Farlsider, thank you for standing with survivors. That group you speak of is the one that the BR administrator suggested a survivor get in touch with. So you can see why that made us question whether staff truly understands how isolated many of them feel.

    • Rex Eakins
      June 26, 2018
      Reply

      My brother and i suffered abuse at the hands of one of Boys Ranch’s beloved alumni turned dorm parent for four years. My brother more than me. At the age of 9 he was beaten with a leather strap until he bled ant continued to be beat until he confessed to something that never happened. I That is one of many accounts I could tell. Our lives have been pure hell since. I love how the administrators deny culpabideny and are backed by legal loop hole. I need help. I My life isnt over yet but it has felt like it. Turn to the abuser for help? Never really expected them to help. They want to be SEEN as humans caring about humans. They dont care about the blood two little boys shed under their great Shirt tail to hang on to. And they dont care about a lifetime of crushed hopes and broken dreams of two old men who never asked for any of it.

      • Rex Eakins
        June 26, 2018
        Reply

        chatter?

      • June 26, 2018
        Reply

        Mr. Eakins, your story, like so many of those suffered by survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch, is devastating. I could never begin to comprehend the trauma you and your brother experienced. So I will just say thank you for your caring and bravery in sharing you story. If you are not a member of the Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Survivors Facebook group, I hope you will join. There is important information there for those who were deeply harmed by the institution. Other than that, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if I can help in any way. Best to you, Jan Heimlich

  2. Karen
    June 16, 2018
    Reply

    I am so sorry for sending CFBR a donation to help the mistreatment of children.

  3. Brett Higbee
    June 16, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you Jan for standing up for these ex ranchers and bringing their story into the spotlight. The only thing that the ranch cares about is not helping ex ranchers, but silencing them and keeping their dark secrets buried in the past. The ugly truth is bad for their donations.

  4. Tabitha W.
    June 16, 2018
    Reply

    This is an incredible story that far too rarely gets told. Thank you so much for this!

  5. Steve Smith
    June 17, 2018
    Reply

    I am a Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch Survivor. I am not afraid to speak out. Mr. Farslider tells about how younger exranchers threaten and ridicules survivors. It would take hours to tell people the evil things that happened under Cal Farley, this is not a great man. We were treated bad while we were out there and are still treated bad by BR. I met Jan Heimlich right here on the CFFP site almost three years ago. I wrote some of the bad things that happened at the ranch. Jan asked me if I needed her help and I said yes. We have good friends since then, she’s become a advocate for us survivors. Through Jan, we are heading in the right direction and all of us survivors would like to thank her.

  6. Adam torres
    November 14, 2018
    Reply

    Cal Farley’s boys ranch helped a lot of kids out. Myself one of them. Just like any other middle school or high school kids got bullied and house parents did the best they could too deal with it. It completely pisses me off, to think that any child what ever age was just abused and that was ok for any of the staff at BR. seems to me that cffp was just looking for a hit piece and they found one.

  7. adam
    November 14, 2018
    Reply

    So they should continue to help na 60’s something year old man? I mean crap. I was at BR for about 4 years got in all kinds of fights and everything else, because obviously you have people from all kinds of demographics but after I left I graduated hs joined the army and retired from there. Maybe when my wife retirees from the school district I should ask BR to help move into our next retirement house we plan on buying, you know because I’m traumatized from BR years ago

    • November 14, 2018
      Reply

      Mr. Torres, you are echoing common sentiments by other ex-ranchers, such as dismissing egregious abuses by calling gang rape “bullying,” blaming victims for expressing their pain, and rebuking the CFFP for bringing the truth to light. Abuse in childhood doesn’t stop there. The leaders of Boys Ranch set up a system that spit out broken children who would face psychological difficulties for the rest of their lives. We are aware that not all boys were abused there. If you were spared, then I’m glad for you and I also have to ask, why beat down those who are in pain (or the advocates who try to help them)? Did Boys Ranch turn you into a bullying adult and make it impossible for you to show compassion and kindness to those who are suffering?

  8. Vanessa
    November 20, 2018
    Reply

    So now when someone stands up and says no this is not a bad place it helps a whole lot more than was hurt they are a bully? Jan you are out for one thing and one thing only. I have zero respect for you. When my husband and I both asked you what your end game was you couldn’t actually answer that question because you knew you were looking at 2 people that weren’t going to fall into your web. Good people were there that made lives better for many and many children – you don’t ever mention that. I know some were hurt and abused but instead of calling out the individuals that did this you want to make it an entirety- they were all bad. Well Jan they weren’t – there were many good parents there. And you are an idiot

    • November 23, 2018
      Reply

      Vanessa, with all due respect, I have to question what lessons you were taught at Girlstown if you believe that namecalling is any way to move a conversation forward. I will not resort to that, but I would like to respond to your comment if you are at all willing to have a conversation rather than just vent your anger, frustration, and hate. First, I do remember when you and your husband asked a group of survivors (of which I was a part) “what is your end game”? We answered that question as best we could and in different ways. You see, I and the survivors who want to see change don’t talk as one voice. Different people have different ideas. (Mine is to support the interests of the survivors, so it’s up to them to answer the question.) I tried to help clarify their ideas. Yet you and your husband kept asking the question over and over, perhaps because you weren’t satisfied with the answers, leading me to wonder, what is your end game? Is it to beat down a group of men who, unlike you, were egregiously abused at Boys Ranch? If not that, then what? I have other questions, too. For example, after decades of the public hearing only positive things about Boys Ranch, why do you feel it’s unfair that negative, truthful information finally come out? Your assessment, that we never say anything positive, is actually incorrect. If you attended our press conference, you would have heard some survivors say many times that there were things about their time at Boys Ranch they appreciated. One man, who, as a child, was repeatedly raped, said, “We’re not here to trash them.” So what more do you want from these men? I also want to point out that you and your husband checked out of the hotel where we held our events without paying your bill, a cost my nonprofit had to incur. I would not have minded except that you didn’t join your fellow ex-ranchers for any of the events that were planned. Perhaps Girlstown and Boys Ranch also failed to teach you both about manners and respect.

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