Before I begin my year end letter (one of my favorite things to do), I want to share with you some exciting news that just came in. First, we have a $25,000 matching gift for all donations through 12/31/2021 from our friends Richelle & Dustin Austin. This means that all donations up to $25,000 will double if received by 12/31/2021. Please consider contributing to this generous matching gift. In addition, below we will share our top accomplishments with you and our goals for 2023. I say we because earlier this year we named Landon Dickeson Executive Director, and he continues to exceed my expectations every day. I would love for each of you to get to know him.
It is Sunday night at about 8:00pm, and I just came from the Safe House. I went to both properties today, spent time with the animals, the boys, and the staff. I love being there at night and spending time with each of them. It is a beautiful night, the wind is ever so slight, and the animals are all at peace. I am reminded through all the hugs, nudges, licks, and kisses that when I look into their eyes, they know they have been saved. They have unconditional love for me, and I love each of them with all my heart. We have 47 special needs animals here at Ranch Hands Rescue and each one of them is God’s gift to the world. Yes, they are different, some are blind, some have chronic leg and hoof issues, some have cancer, some have seizures and a host of other health issues, but to me, these animals are just as important as the healthy ones. I am always amazed at how, despite all the neglect and abuse that they have endured, they can learn to trust humans again and can still love us so much. When I am stressed or having a dreadful day, I always go to the pasture. Our animals understand the pain I am in, and they always make me feel better. It is so beautiful how God places animals in our lives to help us.
When I started Ranch Hands Rescue, I wanted to save special needs animals and provide them with a forever home. I also knew that these special animals could help people. So, I designed our counseling program for people like me, people who did not see any hope. For those of you who know me, you know that I am a survivor of rape, an addict, and was homeless for a time. After my rape, I felt everything had been taken from me. I turned to drugs and alcohol to mask my pain. In those days there were no programs for boys. It simply was not talked about, and I felt all alone. I did not care what happened to me. In fact, I wished many times that I would just die. It was a painful time, a dark time. I was broken and I did not know how to fix myself.
During that tough time there were random acts of kindness from people I did not know, and there were many people who wanted to help me. The truth is I did not think I was deserving of help. I was less than and not good enough to ever have a normal life. I did not have any hope at all. That, my friend, is a terrible place to be. It is a very lonely place. After many years of struggling, I finally got clean and sober, and I have been clean and sober for 34 years. I am one of the blessed ones. There are many who never find their way out. This is what I wanted to create in Ranch Hands Rescue, a way out of the darkness for those who cannot see hope. Through treatment, an incredible support network, and a few unconventional recovery methods, I learned to be a survivor and not a victim. I was able to have an incredible career at Motorola and an exceptionally good life. I have no doubt that what happened to me then God has used to prepare me for the work I do now.
While building the sanctuary and counseling center, I also envisioned a residential component for RHR. To be honest, I always thought it would be for Veterans in honor of my father who was a decorated WWII hero. However, when I realized that boys and young men are the forgotten victims of sex trafficking and that there was NOT ONE safe house in the country for these innocent victims to go, I knew that we could change that and I knew what I had to do. So, we announced that we would open Bob’s House of Hope to fill that void and to bring awareness to the fact that boys and young men are sex trafficked too. On June 1, 2021, we opened Bob’s House of Hope, the FIRST safe house in the United States for young men who have been sex trafficked. The house has been full, with a growing wait list, since that first month. By the time you read this, Bob's House of Hope will have been open for 18 months.
As I reflect on the history and the future of Ranch Hands Rescue, I want to paint a picture for you of the realities that we are facing in those we serve. I want you to know what we mean when we say trauma, abuse, neglect. The stories below are difficult truths to accept, so please take your time reflecting on them.
- A horse seized by law enforcement after being beaten with a baseball bat. He was slotted for euthanasia because the beating left him with a broken leg.
- A dog named Hero who was seized by the FBI because his owner sexually abused him and made videos of the abuse.
- A pig seized for abuse and neglect who weighed only half of what she should have weighed. Her ribs were visible, and she could barely stand or walk around.
- A 15-year-old boy who came out as gay to his stepfather and was then raped by his stepfather. He tried to hang himself before he was referred to services.
- A 13-year-old girl sexually abused by her uncle who refused to speak for 6 months. Her self-harm wounds are still healing.
- A 6-year-old boy sexually abused and locked in a closet and forced to eat carpet fibers. He underwent emergency surgery to have the fibers removed.
- A 19-year-old young man with Autism trafficked right here in Denton, and who came into services with rectal damage. He called his traffickers bullies because he did not understand the full extent of what had happened to him.
- A 20-year-old young man given a drug called ‘wet’ to control him while he was being trafficked as a teenager. ‘Wet’ is marijuana laced with PCP and formaldehyde. He has permanent brain damage.
- A 23-year-old young man sex trafficked by his adoptive father since he was 11 years old. His first sexual abuse was at age 7.
I do not share these deidentified true stories to shock you or keep you up at night. I share them so that you know the reality of the lives you are helping to save. Everyone one of these animals, children, and young men were helped or are being helped by the programs here at Ranch Hands Rescue. Animal abuse, sexual abuse, and sex trafficking are epidemic, and we must STOP them!
Sex trafficking of boys and young men is the most overlooked, yet pervasive, issue plaguing our society today. We have become the driving force in the country to change the narrative and educate the public that boys and young men are sex trafficked too. There isn’t one rational person who can understand what these boys have been through. All have been trafficked since 14 or 15 years old, some younger. None of them have over a 7th grade education, and none of them have ID, birth certificate, insurance, etc. When they come to us, these youth only know how to lie, cheat, steal, fight, and manipulate. They have been taught all the wrong things. Everyone in their lives has manipulated and lied to them. They have all been exploited and abused for money. The number of drugs the traffickers give them is shocking. They want them hooked so they bring the money back to them. They control them in every way and enslave them to make more money. It’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. It is actual human slavery. There is hope though! Each of these young men have goodness in them. In fact, we are already seeing progress! They are all in school, two have received their GEDS, two are in college, and several are completing additional testing to develop a trade or attend college. All are sober for the longest period ever in their young lives. And, something that always makes me cry, they are learning to help one another through shared meals, music, and shared responsibilities in the house. They are not bad kids. They are innocent victims who have been through bad things.
The principles of our counseling program are also applied to the residents at Bob’s House of Hope, along with extensive goals for recovery of body, mind, and spirit. We are working with them on their education and career goals, their spiritual journey, their mental health and physical health needs, and their life skills training such as teaching them how to cook, clean, budget money, open a savings account, etc. The boys all work at the ranch with a variety of jobs from taking care of the animals, to gardening, and more. They receive a paycheck for their labor with which they buy non-essentials and start their savings account. This is outside of the daily chores and things they are required to do as a resident of the house. They have never had a normal job or been taught the basics of how to take care of themselves. They all need supervision.
Since opening the house, we have learned a lot. One thing we know is that our health care system is broken. It takes 3-4 months for services, especially on the mental health side. As a result, we have brought as many services as possible in house. When a young man arrives at Bob’s House of Hope, we immediately set them up with a full physical, blood work, and testing for TB, STIs, HIV/AIDS, covid, flu, etc. We have to address their medical needs first. Next, we set them up with dental care. None of them have ever had dental work, and their needs are extensive. Thanks to Dr. Matt Artho at Country Lakes Family Dental, we can get them the care they need and deserve. Dr. Artho and LeAnn are two of our angels, and they give to us unconditionally. As we stabilize the residents’ medical needs, we begin addressing their mental health needs. These young men have tremendous mental health issues after what they have been through. They are all extremely afraid and have high anxiety, in addition to other challenges such as Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Major Depression, Autism, and more. It is critical that we get them level. To achieve mental stability, we have hired our own Psychiatrist, Psychologist, and additional counselors. We have to give these young men a real chance at hope and healing. If we don’t, they risk imprisonment, a lifetime of addiction, homelessness, and death.
As I mentioned, the success of our counseling program helped inform our treatment approach in the safe house. Although we specialize in serving minors, we serve all segments of the population who have severe PTSD and trauma. Our criteria for free or subsidized services are that the individual was in a previous program and has not made progress. When anyone, especially youth, regress, we start seeing additional issues manifest like self-harm, disordered eating, severe anger, panic attacks, the list goes on. Over the years, we have built partnerships with more than 25 agencies who refer those clients to us. They are the ones who do not see any hope. It has been 12 years since we started our counseling program, and we have helped thousands. To effectively treat these individuals, we get to the root of the trauma. This is where the animals come in. Under the guidance of a highly trained, licensed therapist, we partner our special needs animals in mental health counseling to uncover, reprocess, and ultimately heal all the trauma the individual has gone through. And, because we do not know in advance what will work for each person, it’s not just Equine and Animal Assisted Counseling that we do. Our therapists are cross trained in EMDR, TBRI, DBT, TF-CBT, Play Therapy, and a host of other modalities to give these individuals the tools they need to have a full and productive life. We help them learn how to deal with life’s challenges in a healthy way and find meaning in life after trauma. Our program is being recognized all over the world. I am proud of that. And importantly, that means it’s working.
For us, 2022 has been a difficult year. We are weathering the storm, but it has taken its toll. Coming out of Covid-19, the challenges have not been easy to manage. In June, we lost our longtime friend and financial manager, Nan Flaten, to cancer. No one saw it coming. She went in a matter of days. It was a huge loss for me and for our team. I miss her every day. We will dedicate a building at the new property in her honor. Picking up the pieces has not been easy, but we hired a new bookkeeper, an accounting firm, and a new auditing firm to get us back on track and to prepare us for the growth that we will experience in 2023. Further, as many of you know, I recently faced some health issues that caused me to miss the Gala. I was actually in the hospital on the night of the event. The Gala has always been my opportunity to celebrate our work and those we serve. It broke my heart to miss it. Thankfully, Landon stepped up and didn’t miss a beat. He is a consummate professional and I am blessed to have him leading this team. Since that weekend, I have learned that I have a heart issue that can be controlled by meds, and they found an ulcer in my stomach and one in my intestines. These are curable issues, so that is great news!
My doctors have told me that I need to reduce my stress. The reality is, I didn't think the events of 2022 had impacted me to the extent they had. I have come to the realization that I need to hand off some of my responsibilities. Landon, who I hand-picked to be our Executive Director, is smart, driven, and passionate. He has the ability to take all of our programs national, and I have every confidence that he will do just that. I also realized that I can, in fact, feel the weight of the recent months on my shoulders. Building Ranch Hands Rescue and Bob’s House of Hope are the greatest actions I have ever undertaken; and, they are also the hardest. The hardest part is raising money. It’s an expensive proposition to run all these programs, and next year our budget will be over 3 million dollars.
People often ask me, “How do you do it? What keeps you going when you see so much tragedy?” Honestly, the answer is simple. It is HOPE. When I see the light return to an animal’s eyes because they know they are safe, my hope is ignited. When a mother tells me about how her child has transformed and that our program saved their life, my hope is ignited. When I hear the residents of the safe house laughing and singing together, my hope is ignited. What keeps me going is the opportunity to see hope ignite in the eyes of these innocent victims. I know that if we can give them hope, they can heal. In my darkest days, it was those little sparks of hope that others gave to me that kept me going. Now, because of your support, my team and I ignite that same hope in these forgotten victims. For that opportunity, I am truly and forever grateful to you.
Despite the challenges, we had many accomplishments in 2022 under Landon’s leadership. Here are some highlights:
- In partnership with Clear Channel and the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas, we launched the FIRST 70-city billboard campaign of its kind in the country to bring awareness that boys are trafficked too. Across Texas alone, the campaign has reached an estimated 10,000,000 views and has increased hits on our website by over 600%.
- In November, we launched a national campaign with billboards in Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles stating that boys are sex trafficked too in both English and Spanish. This campaign will reach MILLIONS on a national scale.
- Developed trainings for first responders across the country to bring a more inclusive approach to the treatment of males who have been trafficked. These trainings reach 100s of first responders every year.
- Named D CEO Magazine’s Social Enterprise non-profit of the year.
- Currently serving over 40 sex trafficked males across the country with an average of 5 new calls a day.
- Presented at the JuST, ISTSS, and TNOYS Conferences (where we received the Steve Wick Innovative Program of the Year award), along with a host of webinars and in person presentations. These opportunities put us front and center to over 5,000 professionals in fields ranging from mental and medical health, to legal, academic, & policy.
- Purchased 40 acres in Denton County where we have begun construction on the infrastructure needed to build out capacity for expansion of the safe house program. This property will be dedicated to Senator Jane Nelson for her tireless work in bringing about change and awareness to the issue of boys and young men being sex trafficked.
- Transformed the lives of over 100 youth with complex trauma who had not made progress in otherprograms by continuing to reduce trauma symptom severity for an industry leading 90% of our clients.
I am proud of the organization we have built. Landon Dickeson has done an outstanding job of developing a first-class team of professionals who have the same passion I do in helping others. His devotion and commitment to this organization is unparalleled, and he is one of the finest men I know. Among that team of first-class professionals are some truly outstanding individuals without whom our services would not be possible. Carla O’hara, our Clinical Director, and her team of highly trained Counselors, including Dr. Kim Robinson, who assesses every new resident; Julia Larson, our Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner; Mags, our House Supervisor; Morghan, our Ranch Manager at the Safe House, and Deborah, our Ranch Manager at the Counseling Center; our Resident Assistants, Care Manager, and Survivor Advocates at the safe house; our ranch hands at both properties; and, of course, my assistant Charlavan, and Landon’s assistant Cynthia. Every one of them give to this organization a piece of themselves, and those pieces are what make us strong. It brings me extraordinary joy to work with such an amazing group of people!
As I mentioned previously, the heaviest and hardest part of running this organization is raising money. Right now, we have a $100,000 shortfall to meet our 2022 Budget. I humbly ask you to help us if you can. We need people to not only donate, but to host fundraisers for us such as Christmas and New Year’s parties, bake sales, Facebook birthdays, whatever fun, inventive ideas you have to raise money. In addition, you can make us your beneficiary on Amazon Smile, order needed supplies via our Amazon wish lists, share our social media posts, join our advisory board or our corps of volunteers, donate a trailer, boat, or car to us, or become a Hand of Hope for as little as $5/month. Also, please consider becoming a mentor for the boys in the safe house, or asking your business friends for gift cards for the boys. They all need clothes and shoes when they first come into services. They also need experiences like bowling, rollerblading, Six Flags, Disneyland, and all the things other kids have experienced. Emotionally they are about 12-15 years old. They sleep with stuffed animals, love cartoons and video games, and enjoy activities like skate boarding, basketball, and catch. They never had a chance to experience the fun part of life and we want to show them that there is more to life than simply surviving. For the first time in their life, they have a safe environment with 24-hour care, food, a loving staff to teach them about healthy boundaries, and most importantly, they have hope.
Before closing my year end letter, I want to share with you what gratitude means to me. To me gratitude is more than being appreciative of what has been given. When I accept a gift, I carry with me the intentions and the hopes underpinning that gift. I strive to honor the values of the individual or group who has shared a piece of themselves through that gift. Not one of us can accomplish a goal alone. In all endeavors, we carry with us the pieces of those who have touched our lives. Their gifts make us who we are. While gifts come in many forms, they all bear the mark of their giver.
When we rescue a special needs animal and give it a new life filled with dignity, caring, and purpose, we carry you with us. When we transform the life of a youth whose encounters with trauma had robbed them of hope, we carry you with us. When we rebuild the life of a young man whose abuses at the hands of traffickers are beyond comprehension, we carry you with us. In every gift of time, wisdom, money, resources, support, we see beyond the gift itself, we see you. We see your selfless intentions. We see your limitless hopes. We see who you are, and we carry you with us in all we do. This is why we say you are part of the RHR family, because YOU are. Thank you for giving of yourself, for trusting us with your hopes, and for standing with us as we face down horrific realities alongside those who have lost the ability to stand.
One more thing, you’re the first to hear, in the next couple of weeks we will issue a press release announcing our plans to open a separate home for minors 12-17 years old!
We can’t accomplish this without your support. I want you to know, YOU are my hero, and I am grateful. As always, I am available to meet or talk by phone. Please share our mission and vision with your friends, work partners, and family. We need every willing soul to help us set right the wrong that was done to these innocent victims. These children, these animals, and these young men are counting on us.
May your loving spirit stay strong for yourself, for those you cherish, and for the ones who have no such strength to give. You are their hero! We hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
On behalf of the staff at Ranch Hands Rescue & Bob’s House of Hope, THANK YOU!
Kindest personal regards,
Robert F. Williams
President & CEO
Ranch Hands Rescue, Inc. (501(c)3; EIN: 26-4610450)
P.S. Remember all donations are doubled up to $25,000 through 12/31/22.