“I’ve really always enjoyed it,” Emily said. “I enjoy the people around me, the people who care for me and give their time to us.”
Emily is in a unique position to offer such an opinion — she’s lived some 12 of her 17 years here at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch.
Emily’s grandparents received custody of her and her older siblings, LeeAnn and Chris, when Emily was very young. The couple provided a loving home, but they quickly realized their young charges needed far more care and emotional support than they were able to provide. They wanted Emily and her siblings to have the rich, full life they deserved.
“Life with my grandparents was fun, we always did fun things,” Emily recalled.
It was heart-wrenching to send the children away — Emily was only 5 years old at the time — but they knew Boys Ranch had helped thousands of young people just like their grandchildren find new hope in life.
“(Their decision) has helped me a lot,” she said. “I don’t know where I’d be without Cal Farley’s.”
No amount of preparation can fully prepare a child so young for leaving her family, but Emily remembers the staff and other children in her young girls’ home welcoming her with open arms.
“I was the baby of the house, so everyone wanted to take care of me,” she chuckled.
Growing up at Cal Farley’s, Emily recognized the influence on her life by people she’s never even met — Cal Farley’s generous supporters. It is they, she said, who’ve given her a safe, accepting home in which to live and so much more.
“Everything I have is based on Cal Farley’s and based on what they’ve done for this organization,” she said. “I’m just grateful.”
A large part of that ‘everything’ for which Emily is grateful is the familial relationship — the normalcy — she shares with the girls in her home.
“I live in a home with 12 girls … We all eat together,” she said. “You live with them, so they become like sisters to you.”
And, of course, an important part of life with her Boys Ranch family has been recognizing the milestones as Emily and her peers mark another year of life. Like individual families, each home at Cal Farley’s develops its own customs. In the case of Emily’s home, that tradition meant a little good-natured fun at each girl’s birthday celebration.
Mrs. Serna has this tradition where she gets icing from the side of the cake and puts it on your face,” Emily said. “It lightens the mood, and it’s really funny. You’re getting icing all over your face. Everyone laughs.”
For Emily, birthdays at Boys Ranch have always been happy occasions.
“I was really happy,” Emily said, reflecting on 11 memorable celebrations in our care. “Your birthday is always a good day. I’ve always loved being able to pick out my cakes and what was going to go on them.”
But, the colorful, delicious birthday cakes served up by the Simpson Dining Hall staff or purchased by house parents at a local bakery are just one small part of making birthdays special at Boys Ranch. The real treat, Emily said, has been the people behind it all.
“The dining hall staff had a really big place in that,” she said. “They always made the cakes for us based on what we wanted, and what design we wanted, what colors or what kind of cake. They were always very devoted to that. That is really awesome.”
Boys Ranch house parents, too, go out of their way to make a day that for some was never cause for celebration into a day filled with smiles and infectious laughter.
“Our house parents would always go to town and buy balloons, buy little signs and candles, everything to try to make it special,” Emily agreed.
Such intentionality is important for our youth, some of whom didn’t celebrate — or even dreaded — their birthdays prior to coming to Boys Ranch.
“I have a few friends who don’t really enjoy their birthday,” Emily acknowledged. “It wasn’t really a good day for them growing up, or it reminded them of something bad that happened to them in their life. It’s really sad.”
Emily said birthdays are important reminders to her of God’s grace in giving her another year of life.
“It’s a way to thank God for another year, it’s a celebration,” she said.
Birthdays are also a tradition celebrated hundreds of times each year at Boys Ranch. And, according to Emily, each of the many Boys Ranch traditions has its place in making this unique little community something even more important.
“Traditions are a family thing,” she said.
Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is many things — a place of refuge, healing, learning and exploration. Above all else, though, it’s a tight-knit family with decades of rich history and loving people eager to share advice, experience and concern.
“Boys Ranch gives you the opportunities, but you have to take them,” Emily said. “They’ve shaped me on the right path … On that path, I’ve met people who’ve helped me to know my worth.”
Now, that sounds like a tradition worth celebrating.