When I was younger, no one could tell me that I wasn’t rich. Not because I had large amounts of money or wealth, but because of the love and care I received from my father, mother and family.
When I was 15 years old, my family experienced a storm like none other. In one day, my world was turned upside down. An unfortunate event tore our household apart and left me with a single mother. This was the day I misplaced my hope and lost my joy. The worst day of my life. I can’t help but become emotional when I think of this dark day.
Eventually my mother was forced to give up our house because she could not maintain the bills on her single income. We moved into public housing and I obtained a job at Chick-Fil-A to help alleviate some of the financial burden. Although we were relatively financially stable at that point, my mother and I could not seem to get along. The stress from normal teenage girl issues, and the stress from the series of unfortunate events mentioned above, became too much to bear.
Although I attempted to talk to my mother, and express my emotions, she responded by quoting scriptures and would advise me to pray about my problems rather than talk to others about them. Because of unstable emotions, at that time, I interpreted these responses as her being unconcerned and uninterested in what I was feeling. I could not understand why my mother did not care enough to comfort me. I learned later that my mother has Asperger’s syndrome which makes it difficult for her to understand, interpret and respond to social and emotional issues. I also grew to realize that she was only giving me the advice she believed was best - and she was right! Since she had found comfort in Jesus, she reminded me that He could comfort me as well.
Before realizing these things, however, I became angry and bitter and grew to resent her. I became defiant towards my mother, causing her to eventually reach out to my school guidance counselor for help. I was given an ultimatum to either lose the attitude or be sent to a home that accepts troubled youth. I couldn’t believe my mother even contemplated this idea of sending me away. In my mind, a move to that type of facility was not necessary, I was simply crying out for a listening ear and for someone to help me stabilize my emotions and cope. I didn’t see myself as troubled, but at this moment I knew that both my mother and I needed a change. I needed a chance.
I met a good friend, while working at Chick-Fil-A, who told me about another organization, Big Oak Girls' Ranch, and what she told me seemed too good to be true. I couldn’t believe it when she told me the Ranch referred to their residents as their children, took them on family vacations, and paid for their education. I thought surely there was a catch when she told me they even paid for their residents' weddings. Of course, as a teenager, the amenities excited me the most, but my mother and I made the decision to move forward with the transition.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that Big Oak was much more than a group home for children. The front entrance says, “A Christian Home for Children Needing a Chance.” For me it was a chance at a fresh start, a chance to make things right, a chance to set myself on the right track. I had a chance to change my direction and I decided to take full advantage of each opportunity provided to me. I had the opportunity to receive counseling at Big Oak Ranch. Through the counseling I received, I was able to overcome depression and learned how to cope with and manage stress using healthy techniques. I also learned to budget and manage money while at The Ranch and purchased my first car through their program. I was given the wonderful opportunity to get braces and undergo corrective jaw surgery for an underbite. I was also afforded the opportunity to attend the ever so glorious Auburn University where I received my Bachelor’s in Social Work. Before graduating and transitioning away from home (Big Oak Ranch) I was given the opportunity to mentor my younger sisters, and developed a small group to teach them how to carry themselves as young godly women, encourage them to stand up for what is right and uplift them to believe that they are jewels and can do anything they set their minds to. After graduation my Big Oak Ranch family supported me as I married my wonderful husband, Donald R. Morgan and gave me a beautiful wedding. They treated me as if I was truly their daughter and every single detail was nothing short of exceptional. Mr. John and my uncle gave me away on my father’s behalf, which meant so much to me. While at the Ranch I made unforgettable friends and memories; I felt loved and supported. All of the residents and staff felt like family to me and still do to this day. I am still in contact with my social worker from Big Oak Ranch, Mary Graham, and she is like another mother to me. I don’t know where I would be if she had not spent so much time listening, comforting, supporting, and counseling me. She has been present for EVERY major milestone in my life since I’ve met her. She is truly a HERO and I could never fully express my gratitude or love for her.
I am truly grateful for my experience at Big Oak Ranch and am grateful for the lifelong friendships I made. I believe that the Lord placed the Ranch on Mr. John Croyle’s heart for children like me—those needing a chance—and I am so glad Mr. John listened to God’s calling. I’ll always remember the promises he made to me and the other children, “I love you, I'll never lie to you, I'll stick with you until you're grown, and there are boundaries.” I can truly say that he kept his word. Mr. John Croyle and Big Oak Ranch will always have a place in my heart! I am grateful for all of the spectacular staff members and supporters that poured so much in to me emotionally, spiritually, and financially during my stay at Big Oak Ranch. I am proud to say that I am a Big Oak Girl and am eternally grateful that I was given the chance that I so desperately needed.