As you are reading this story, Jim and Jana Fletcher are embarking on a new adventure and call in their lives – as house parents at Eagle Ranch, a home for children in crisis located in Chestnut Mountain, Ga. After a school holiday on Monday, today the Fletchers, along with their son Sam, will be meeting the seven boys they will be house parents to.
After a relatively long time to think about what they wanted to do with their lives, the Fletchers’ new lifestyle developed in just about four months. Jim Fletcher, who co-owns Pasley Fletcher Funeral Home with his brother Bob, said he and his wife had felt for some time that there was more to their life story than just running a business and raising a family in Thomaston.
“We didn’t know what that meant, but probably 10 years ago I began to feel the urge to just keep my options open,” Jim said. “But 2012 was the year that we were really looking at separating or consolidating ownership of the funeral home. Bob and I own the funeral home together, and so what we did is we came to an agreement. He is taking over the operation of the funeral home, and I’m still involved, but I’m not involved in the day to day operations.
“ One day, as we were looking ahead, Jana said I needed to put my resume out. So I’m on LinkedIn. You can put in your qualifications and it gives you job opportunities and links. Through LinkedIn I got this email and it said ‘Jobs you might be interested in.’ This job comes up that says ‘Education Director, Eagle Ranch.’ I’m not an education director and I didn’t even know what Eagle Ranch was, so I trashed it. A couple of days later it comes again. So out of curiosity, I decided to see what Eagle Ranch is, so I clicked on it and it took me to the website. As I began to look at the website, I realized it is homes for troubled children. I didn’t know if they had an opening; I had never heard of the organization before, but something about it touched me. So I called the number and talked to someone in the office. They were very nice, but very vague. I asked what I would do if I were interested, and they said to send my and Jana’s resumes in.”
The Fletchers did just that, and a few days later received an email and phone call asking them to download and fill out applications and send them back in. Jim said when they got to the part on the application asking for references, they decided to put down a new friend named Jody.
“Jody is a lady that lives in Atlanta that we met through a mission trip that we went on to Uganda last year,” said Jim. “We got to know her, and really bonded with her, but it was kind of out of the blue to put somebody we hadn’t known that long as a reference.
“Jana called Jody to see if it was okay. She told Jody what we were doing, and Jana said there was silence on the phone for a minute. Finally Jody told Jana that she had been on the Eagle Ranch board for six years as a director, and knew the founder, Eddie Staub, personally. At the time, we didn’t even know who Eddie was. But out of all the people we could pick as a reference, we pick a person who didn’t know we were applying, and we didn’t know that she was a part of it. I guess all that played into the fact that we got selected.”
That happened in early December, and the Fletchers have been on a whirlwind ever since. Summer is normally the time when house parents leave Eagle Ranch and new ones are needed. But the children’s home had some house parents leave in November, and were looking for new ones. The Fletchers fell into place. They visited Eagle Ranch and interviewed with the counselor they will be working with. They did a psychological evaluation, were fingerprinted and had a background check done, and even had to be evaluated by a marriage counselor. They also met the boys in the home.
In the midst of all that, Jim and Bob Fletcher worked out the details for Bob taking over the operational side of Pasley Fletcher. Jim sold his side of the operational side to Bob and stepped down as president of the corporation, with Bob being elected to replace him.
By the middle of February, everything was set for them to move to Eagles Ranch. The Fletchers have four children: Jay, who is working in Atlanta, Anna Jane, who is finishing up her masters in occupational therapy in Augusta, Banks, who is taking classes at Gordon State College, and Sam, who is homeschooled by Jana and will be moving with them.
“What we found out was, this is the first time they can remember parents moving into a home with a child the same age as the boys in the home,” said Jim. “Typically the parents are younger, with younger children.
“They interviewed Sam, just like us. We have a section of the house that is off limits to the boys. It has two bedrooms and two baths. We’re all a little bit apprehensive, but he’s excited. It’s kind of a boy’s dream, the location – soccer fields, basketball courts, a full gymnasium, pool, horses. He’ll have a lot to do.
“Banks’ comment was, ‘Most kids leave home and go off to college. I go off to college and my parents leave,’” Jim said. “He’s going to be living at home here and going back and forth to Gordon, and will probably move up in the summer and transfer to North Georgia or Gainesville State.”
As house parents, the Fletchers will be responsible for the feeding, housing and care of the boys. On the weekends the boys stay at the Ranch, they will have chores to do on Saturday mornings, then activities the rest of the day. On Sundays, the Fletchers will decide where they go to church.
“The idea is that they will, on those weekends, get to experience a real family. So everything we’ll do will be as a family.”
One unique aspect of Eagle Ranch is that the parents are involved as well as the children. Founder Eddie Staub believes sustained change in a child’s life can only take place by bringing healing and restoration to their family. The children and their families set behavioral, academic and relationship goals, and the staff work with the parents as well as the children in achieving those goals. Along those lines, every other weekend, the children go home with their parents.
“The program they use is based on choices and consequences,” said Jim. “From what I understand is, they’ve made bad choices and that’s why they are there. So what they want them to learn is how to make good choices and make choices where they consider the consequences. It is very, very structured in what they do. For instance, when they come in from school, they bring a folder with them from the teacher. If they’ve made bad choices at school, then it reflects on their freedom at home. There will be some consequence if they’ve gotten in trouble. If they don’t do their chores, there is a consequence.”
Jim admits that one of the things he and Jana will have to work out is how to handle Sam, who is the same age as the boys in their house.
“One of things is we will definitely put Sam into the chore rotation and he’ll do some things, but as far as the bedtimes go and other things, Sam hasn’t made the bad choices to be in the position they are in, so they are not on an equal plane. But that is something we’ll have to work through.”
The average stay for a child at Eagle Ranch is 18 months to 2 years. Eagle Ranch requests house parents make a commitment for three years, in order to have continuity with the boys. So the Fletchers are planning on staying at Eagle Ranch for at least three years. But Jim said they have already met a number of the other house parents and already feel comfortable there.
“It is a very tight-knit group and they support each other,” said Jim. “That is very positive – to be in a community where everybody is working for the same goal and can support each other. “