Valor Ranch-A Pathway to Dignity for Homeless Veterans
Story by Dave Eckert
It’s called Valor Ranch, and it is both a personal journey and a story shared by veterans around the country. It is the brainchild, the passion, and the commitment of Smithville resident Debbie Childress. “Our goals are to provide housing and services to veterans to help them reintegrate successfully into civilian life. The final goal is to build a working ranch, which would provide transitional housing for homeless veterans along with programs and workshops focusing on items such as job skills, resume writing, money management, budgeting, healthy eating, and fitness, among others. Basically, whatever skills they’re lacking that are keeping them on the streets, that’s where we want to fill in that gap,” Childress shared.
For Childress, the vision for Valor Ranch is personal. “I was a military spouse. My husband did four tours in and around Iraq. Every time he came home, his PTS was a little worse. One day, he snapped, took everything we had and left. I was forced to start over with less than two dollars,” Childress remembers. “That was 15 years ago. I’ve never seen him since the day he walked out. I was a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling my kids, ages eight and nine at the time.”
It’s hard to for me to imagine how an experience like that didn’t make Childress angry and bitter. Instead, she chose a different path, a way to make things better. “I didn’t want other people to go through what we did, so I decided to work on a way to help the veterans reintegrate in a more successful way. “We became a 501c3 charity in 2018, and have been knee-deep in fundraising since then, while at the same time, providing housing and services on a smaller scale,” Childress said.
Childress says when up and running she expects each veteran to be with Valor Ranch for 12 to 18 months as they go through the program. “We feel like we have a unique financial model that will help each vet have a great nest egg to get started on their own when they’re ready to move out and move forward. Then, I’m hoping they’ll come back as mentors for the next “generation” of residents,” Childress explained. Those are Childress’ hopes, dreams, and visions. For now, though, it is a much different, and personal, reality.
“Since we became a 501c3, we’ve been housing veterans in my home. That wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s hard to say no when I have empty rooms and there are veterans who need them. There is absolutely nothing okay about a veteran sleeping on a bench while I’m in a warm home, especially when they’re the reason I have that warm safe home,” Childress said. “We are working on raising the money needed to purchase property on which to build the ranch. We have a couple of properties that we’re keeping our eye on and know that we are very close to attaining that goal,” Childress proclaimed. “We are always looking for a corporate backer or individuals who also want to help veterans succeed. We are proud to be providing services where we can, but we’re eager to be doing it on a bigger scale, with all the programs we want to add, including equine therapy.”
These are big goals, and Childress obviously has a big heart, but it’s going to take much more than that for Valor Ranch to become a reality. Childress knows that, of course, and is counting on the generosity of corporations and individuals to get Valor Ranch to the finish line. “People can get involved in a variety of ways. Of course, we’re always thankful for our donors. Every non-profit relies on donations. We are no different in that respect. Valor Ranch hosts four fundraisers each year. In February, we hold a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament in memory of my son, Wyatt, who I lost to suicide in 2020. That will be February 24, 2024. In April, we will be hosting our Second Annual Tee It Up for Vets golf tournament at Tiffany Greens Golf Club. It was a blast last year at our inaugural tournament and we’re looking forward to making it even bigger and better on April 26, 2024. On September 21, 2024, we’ll be hosting the Fifth Annual Runnin’ for Home 5k at the gorgeous National WWI Museum and Memorial. And coming up next month, November 18, 2023, we are hosting Banded Together for Veterans, a night of music and dancing at the American Legion in Smithville featuring three awesome local bands. We are always looking for volunteers at our events. People can certainly participate in that way,” Childress shared.
If you’d like to get involved, learn more about Valor Ranch, or donate, please visit https://www.valorranch.org/.