By most estimates, more than a million children in the United States need short-term or long-term intervention due to a variety of reasons ranging from neglect or abandonment to physical or sexual abuse. A variety of ministries and organizations provide care and resources, but their efforts can feel disconnected. A program begun several years ago by Big Oak Ranch seeks to address that problem.
Planting Oaks, a support branch of Big Oak Ranch, began as a way to provide teamwork, collaboration and mentorship among organizations with the shared mission to help children from hard backgrounds. Founded in 1974 by John Croyle, Big Oak Ranch provides homes for abused, neglected and abandoned children where they can learn of God’s love and His plan for their lives. The organization serves about 4,000 children and young adults in 33 states and seven foreign countries.
Over the past 49 years, leaders at Big Oak Ranch have sought to discover and utilize the best practices for everything from caring for vulnerable children to managing the resources entrusted them to provide that care. Many lessons were learned the hard way through mistakes. And a goal they’ve always had was to share those lessons with others.
Mentorship and resourcing
So starting with a few like-minded ministries, Big Oak Ranch developed an informal mentorship and resourcing program. This developed into a 2 ½-day, “A to Z” program for new groups or employees. Held two to three times a year, these workshops are called Planting Oaks Intensives.
Planting Oaks is now a ministry that combines ongoing structured mentorships with the opportunity for the intensive workshops.
“We wanted to take everything we knew — everything we’ve learned and all the resources we’ve gained — and be able to leverage those for greater good,” said Erin Woods, director of Planting Oaks.
Planting Oaks Intensives provide opportunities for leaders of various organizations to talk with each other and problem-solve. This networking among professionals provides guidance for participants and best practices rise to the top through the collaboration.
Blanket Fort Hope, a ministry building a restoration home for young survivors of sex trafficking, recently benefited from the Planting Oaks experience.
“When Planting Oaks became real in our life at Blanket Fort Hope, it was just the right time,” said Alexa James, CEO and founder of Blanket Fort Hope. “We needed to know those next steps of what the pieces to bring this together looked like because they have the most experience, and they are successful at doing it.
“I was just blown away to be invited to be part of that process.”
Woods said Planting Oaks is very hands-on in the early years of new residential programs.
“Then once they are up and running and they’re serving children in a significant capacity, we become more of a collaborative mentor,” Woods said.
For both Woods and James, the best aspect of the Planting Oaks Intensives are the relationships.
“These ministries don’t know each other,” Woods said. “To see them at the end of those 2 ½ days holding hands, praying with each other, getting each other’s phone numbers and taking photos — it blows my mind the bond that takes place.”
As a “person who studies identity,” Woods uses her gifts to help both the children and colleagues find their identity. She noted that sometimes the call to help vulnerable children comes from a similar lived experience — many who work in this field come from really hard places themselves.
Recognizing the challenges, Woods makes it a priority to encourage leaders to be confident in their callings.
“I think it’s part of my job, as I’m helping develop them as leaders, to also remind them of who they are because the things that happen to you don’t change what God created you to be,” Woods said.
A houseparent once told Woods how she thinks about her role. “I have to trust the Lord with the part of the race I was told to run,” the houseparent said.
“That is such a good depiction,” Woods said. “We have to have such obedience and faith in the Lord that He gives us a piece of the race to run — and that’s all we’re responsible for. We let Him decide who the baton gets handed to.
“When we do that, there’s a peace that truly passes all understanding because we’re trusting His hand.
“You know long term, our goal is to truly be able to say that we’re providing child care across the United States and beyond in such a significant way so that we can say, ‘Hey, we are making an impact on the child welfare crisis. We are well on our way.’”
To find out more about joining in the vision of Big Oak Ranch or the Planting Oaks Intensive, go to BigOak.org.