‘How Boys Ranch Saved My Life’

By CeCe Bruce
Photo by Gabi Collins

‘I think I would not have made it to 16 if I had stayed in the house I was in.’

I always start off saying that Boys Ranch really did save me.

They did. I came from a home full of hate and dysfunction and toxicity and abusiveness. I always say my houseparents Tim and Susan Nation were my earthly parents. 

The reason I’m a good parent now is because of them. They showed me how to love my children, how to discipline them, how to be selfless. They’ve always shown me love. Sometimes, it was tough love, but they never laid a hand on me. They never yelled at me. They never cussed me out. They never threatened my life. They’ve been able to parent me and not be toxic.

They saved me. I think I would not have made it to 16 if I had stayed in the house I was in.

I had a lot of trauma – I didn’t think it was
trauma back then.

The first three years at Boys Ranch, I was getting in trouble all the time with my words.

I tested the Nations all the time. I wanted to see if they would abandon me, see if they would switch it up someday and strike me across the face.

I tested them all the time, and every time, they would say, “We love you.”


That was really powerful.

I thought, “I’m going to make them hate me, because my own people hate me.”

That’s not how it was. The Nations showed me how parents are supposed to love their child.

I always say that Boys Ranch saved my life and the Nations made me want to fight for my life.

After I graduated from Boys Ranch in 2007, I worked until January 2008, when I went to college at Lamar University. That did not work out.

I want to take full accountability: I was really stuck.

I liked the comfort zone of being stuck and didn’t want to do anything different, because that meant changing.

Changing meant feeling how I felt, and at the time, I didn’t want to feel anything because the memories of my trauma hurt so much. I wanted to be numb, and I tried many unproductive ways to make myself feel numb.

From age 19 to 21, I lived in a car and shelters, or outside in a park, still trying to feel numb.

CeCe Bruce stands at the back of a group of basketball players.

CeCe, at center back, took part in all the activities at Boys Ranch. 

One day, I said, ‘I know that I’m meant to do better than this.’

I speak with the Lord out loud, because he’s my parent, and I was saying, “I’m really sorry” every day, and one day, I said, “You know what? I’m tired of saying I’m sorry for the same thing over and over. I know that I’m meant to do better than this.”

I also told my grandmother some of the abuse that had happened when I was a child. I literally thought to myself, “This isn’t going to go well. She isn’t going to believe it.”

The memories were so heavy. I was drowning over and over again. I would come up for air, and I would drown again. I had been doing this for years, since elementary school, and I was tired. She didn’t believe it, but I needed to say it out loud and let it go.

I went to a shelter in McKinney, Texas, called the Samaritan Inn.

 Across the street was North Texas Job Corps Center. It offered three meals a day and a safe place to stay, and they were going to teach me a trade.

I also wanted to remain clean, and you had to be clean there and pass random drug tests.

March 1, 2010, was my freedom day.

Once I got into the Job Corps, I was way older than most people, so I became the RA’s assistant and dorm manager. I was sergeant at arms, meaning if someone got in trouble, I had to give them consequences. I couldn’t do the same things they were doing, because then I would be a hypocrite. That kept me on the straight and narrow, too. I met so many great people. It enabled me to do better.

I became a certified nurse aide, and I worked from 2011 to 2018 as a CNA.

CeCe was at Boys Ranch from 2002 until 2007.  Photo courtesy of Issac Holland

‘People say I’m strong, and I don’t like that word … I have hard days.’

When I became pregnant with my first son, I decided then and there I was going to make sure he has a nontoxic mother. I didn’t think I was going to be the best mom, but I knew I could be better than what I was given. I knew I could be a provider and a protector because that comes very naturally to me. I needed to be present and loving – unconditionally.

I chose to have my children and I’m going to always honor my decision. They’ve brought me joy and structure and so much more than I ever thought I would have. They’re awesome – just a handful.

There are times when I have called Mr. Nation, saying, “I don’t like my child today! What was the Lord thinking?” He’ll laugh with me, because he understands.

In 2020, I graduated from West Texas A&M University with my criminal justice degree. And then COVID hit. My son Amari, who has many health issues, got really sick, and I could not work in my field.

Then I heard about the ITeach program. If you have your bachelor’s degree, you can get your teaching certification.

I took my special education test and my content test, and I passed it the first time.

I started work in fall 2021 as a special education teacher at Sam Houston Middle School in Amarillo, Texas. I co-teach reading, language arts and science. I have a caseload of 20-plus kids.

I have new sympathy for all the caseworkers at Boys Ranch!

Both of my sons are under the special education umbrella for different reasons. My oldest, Dayvion, 9, has Asperger’s. My youngest son, Amari, has dyslexia, sickle cell disease and asthma. He’s 8 years old and has been in the hospital 63 times. He goes through a lot.

People say I’m strong, and I don’t like that word, because I want them to know that I’m like everybody else. I cry, and I want to quit, and I have hard days.

But I don’t quit. I would sit outside a hospital room with my laptop and a blanket and some coffee, and I would knock out a five-page paper for college.

Boys Ranch paid for most of my schooling. They took chance after chance, giving me a great opportunity. They’ve also been supportive in other ways. I remember one time, Amari was in the hospital, and I thought I’d lose my job for missing too much work. Kim Reeves, the Boys Ranch vice president of alumni, showed up at the hospital with a suitcase. She said, “I want you to work your night shift tonight, and I’ll stay with Amari.”

They cared that much.

That’s how Boys Ranch has been. I always say they didn’t save me once – they saved me many times.

Boys Ranch and its donors are generous, loving people. I never deserved any of that, and they still showed me love.

I am grateful, and I’m trying to pass it on.

‘How Boys Ranch Saved My Life’

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