The Choice to Do Better Made the Difference
When Jalen came to Boys Ranch, he hated school.
After two years at Boys Ranch, Jalen, 18, still doesn’t like school, but everything else about his life is different.
The introvert from Arkansas has friends, adult mentors and a plan for his future.
He’s living a different life than the one he thought was ahead of him at 16, when he had just failed his freshman year of high school and faced a difficult choice.
“I hope to go to school back in Arkansas at the University of Central Arkansas or maybe Arkansas Technical University,” the senior said. “What I actually want to do for a career is computer science, specifically, front-end web development or cybersecurity.”
That’s right: Jalen chose to do better. The boy who doesn’t like school plans to take more classes. He sees it as a path to attaining his future, no matter how difficult he finds it.
“Out here, I learned something very important, which is you’re not going to like a lot of things in life, and any adult has to do things they don’t want to do,” Jalen said. “I imagine lots of people don’t want to go to their job every single day, but they do it.”
Many visitors to Boys Ranch have met Jalen at the headquarters visitor center on campus, where he works behind the counter, cashing out guests and asking them sincerely about their lives and how their days are going.
“Before I came here, I worked at a Dairy Queen, where they encouraged us to smile and greet customers on the way in,” Jalen said. “Your mood can easily affect a person just walking in. If I walk into a store and the first thing I see is an angry person looking at me in a judgmental mood, that’s going to affect my mood. But if I see a happy person, I’m going to feel a bit better about myself. I know for a fact that some people have come through headquarters and it has affected their day and made them happy once they left.”
Jalen always welcomes visitors with a joke or two, pointed out his mentor, Ashley Todd, who coordinates the visitor center.
“Jalen is always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needs it,” Todd said. “He is a senior this year, so we are not looking forward to him graduating, but we are excited to see what great things he does!”
A friend persuaded Jalen to take a chance on the retail Experiential Learning Program, and Jalen loves the chance to change people’s lives.
“Being at headquarters gave me a way to progress myself in a healthy sociable way,” he said. “I became more outgoing and interactive with people. At headquarters, it doesn’t matter if I’m talking to someone walking by or if they’re buying something. The experience has taught me how to be more open.”
Openness didn’t come naturally to Jalen.
At home in Arkansas, he hid himself from others by lying to them, an example some of the adults in his life had set for him.
“I was a very bad chronic liar,” Jalen said. “There are still some cases where I have to catch myself every now and then. It got really bad and my aunt and my uncle, the people I was living with at the time, they realized that I had a big problem.”
Jalen and his aunt watched the movie about Boys Ranch, “The Edge of the World.”
His aunt offered Jalen a choice: Go to Boys Ranch, or go earn a GED and become a productive adult, making his own money and paying for his own food and housing.
Jalen chose Boys Ranch and then made the even harder choice to seize the opportunity and work to change his life.
https://www.calfarley.org/houseparents/“I figured if I had a new start where no one knows me, no one even knows where I come from or why I’m here, I can start over and build up my character in a good way,” Jalen said. “I don’t want my future kids to end up in the same situations I’ve had to go through. I just want to go to college and contribute to society in some form.”
At Boys Ranch, Jalen has been able to spend quality time with his houseparents, George and Amy Lawless.
“Jalen is one who ‘gets it,’” George Lawless said. “He understands the opportunity he has been offered.’”
Jalen trusts his houseparents.
“I look up to the Lawlesses a lot,” Jalen said. “They’ve taught me a lot of things. They’ve shown me a lot of trust and guidance being here. I really appreciate that. The Lawlesses are very open with me. They don’t lie to me at all. It has really helped with the development of me telling the truth most times.”
Jalen powered his way through remedial classes to catch up with other students. He was determined to make a go of it.
“Being at Boys Ranch, you get a lot of opportunities,” he said. “It just depends on whether you want to take them or not.”
Jalen – who hated school – will graduate from Boys Ranch High School in May 2022.