A car door opened and a lanky teenage boy got out. He reached into the back seat to retrieve a duffle bag. He shut the door and stood on the sidewalk and watched his grandfather pull out of the parking lot and turn onto the highway heading south.
This teenager had no one else to live with. He glanced at the social worker standing in front of him and then down at his shoes. After listening to her for a moment, he hunched his shoulders and followed her into the brick building.
This scenario is a generalization of an actual situation that played out last fall. Because of circumstances that were not the fault of a 15-year-old boy, he was literally left on the steps of the Alcona County building as his grandfather drove away. Both parents had not been involved in his life for some time and the only person willing to take him in was his elderly grandfather, who eventually decided he didn’t want to take care of the teenager any longer.
In this case, the teenager ended up in a foster home for several months and then, because he made a bad decision, a juvenile home in another part of the state.
When he is finished in that institution, this young man will have a place to call home in Alcona County – The Chosen Ranch. In several months’ time so will other boys aged eight to 18.
Frank and Jinny DimercurioThe Chosen Ranch, located on Beaton Road in Haynes Township, is in the developmental stage to become a Christian home for abused, neglected, abandoned and homeless children in Alcona County, according to founder and executive director Frank Dimercurio. “We believe with all of our hearts, that when a child is provided with a proper home, with parents that are there when they get up in the morning and when they go to bed at night, are loved unconditionally, are clean, well fed and are shown the love of Christ on a daily basis, they will thrive and become productive members of our society,” he said.
The Chosen Ranch is rapidly moving from a long-held dream to a reality for Dimercurio and his wife, Virginia Dimercurio, of Harrisville. “I am watching, in what feels like slow motion, a jig saw puzzle come together – all of the pieces are falling into place from our past, other peoples’ past… life-long passions and experiences. It’s all coming together,” Frank said.
The Dimercurios, Rick and Kay Dafoe of Mikado and Jamie and Joy Bullis of Hubbard Lake are executive board members for The Chosen Ranch. They have been the driving force behind the Chosen program since last summer when 12 teenage boys, from various locations within the county, who were lacking positive adult guidance and parenting, were strongly encouraged by Alcona County Judge Laura Frawley to participate in a newly developed 13-week program. Not court sanctioned, this Christ-centered program was developed and led by Jamie Bullis and facilitated by several male mentors who drove the teenagers to and from the program each week.
Dimercurio and Dafoe were two of the men who helped with the summer program. “I told Jamie that he didn’t know it then, but he was going through a 13-week job interview,” Frank said.
That “interview” was the next piece of the puzzle. Frank, who was born and raised in Detroit, Mich. started his first business when he was 19. Over the course of the next 40 years he started, expanded and sold several businesses, worked for two national nonprofit organizations in fund raising, earned a bachelor’s degree in personnel and business management and worked in numerous, volunteer positions with children and young adults from his community and beyond.
He and his wife, Virginia “Jinny,” purchased their property in Mikado in 2002 and made it their permanent home after retiring in 2010. Getting involved in the community didn’t take long – Jinny began helping out with My Brother’s Hope, she got Frank involved, which led him to spend time at the county courthouse where he met Frawley and other court officers and he began a mentoring program for local youth.
“I’ve had a passion to work with kids my whole life,” Frank said. “I learned that with a little bit of a break they can have a whole different outcome… By mentoring young people and showing them a different way; by introducing them to the guy who can change their life – Jesus Christ – not from a church standpoint, but to know him personally – it is a powerful thing.
After the summer Chosen program concluded, the nonprofit, federally tax exempt parent organization, Community Support Distribution Services (CSDS) was formed and goals and objectives, including financial stability without state or federal funds, were developed in a multi-faceted program. The first facet involves The Chosen Ranch, with plans to expand, as needed, the number of homes for youth on the 160 acre property.
“This is a home – not a camp, not an institution… it’s not a center,” Jamie said. “This is a home for abused, neglected, abandoned and homeless children. Our mission is to be there for kids that have never had one where they are valued, where they are special, and where their enormous potential is recognized. We will tell them they are loved.”
Frank explained CSDS and The Chosen Ranch are committed to providing a Christ-centered home environment. “We are committed to providing a quality education through partnerships with local schools and churches. We are committed to working with local businesses to provide a variety of job training opportunities. CSDS and The Chosen Ranch will provide every child that is entrusted to us with all tuition and living expenses needed to achieve a four-year college degree.
The Bullis Family
Jamie, is the assistant executive director and his wife, Joy, will be overseeing the day-to-day operations of The Chosen Ranch.
Without realizing it, the Bullises have been preparing for this responsibility for most of their adult lives.
Joy Bullis received a bachelor’s degree in social work, specializing in juvenile justice, from Michigan State University in 1997. While attending college she worked for three years at the Eaton County Youth Facility. After receiving her degree she conducted an after-school program in Ingham County for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. From 1999 to 2002 she was the director of a residential program for at-risk youth at White Pines New Beginnings in Manistee, Mich. In this capacity she was in charge of four foster care homes with teenage youth.
Jamie has been a trooper with the Michigan State Police since 2000. He has been a canine handler since 2008. He has also been involved with youth as a coach for baseball, basketball, football, track and soccer from third grade to varsity level. He coaches varsity track and field and cross country at Alpena High School. Additionally, he started and maintained a youth ministry from2002 to 2006 before moving to Alcona County. He is also an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting and fishing – especially bow fishing.
Jamie and Joy married in 1998 and moved to Alcona County in 2006 when Jamie was assigned to the Alpena post – Lincoln detachment. Her work with children turned inward as their family grew. They have three boys.
“I’ve been raising my children for the last 13 years,” she said. However, she has continued to work with children in the community as the varsity track coach and cross country coach for Alpena High School, teaching classes with the home school group in the greater Alpena area (Mikado to Rogers City to Hillman) and spent three years as the summer program director for Word of Life Church in Alpena.
Initially, when Jamie approached Joy about taking on the responsibility presented by the Dimercurios and scope of The Chosen Ranch, “I said ‘no,’ ‘no,’ ‘no.’” But more consideration brought back dreams from a long time ago. “I remembered what my passion was… It’s a big step, but honestly, it’s been in my heart for probably 20 years. I just got side-tracked with my life,” Joy said.
“We feel like we have the life experience – our heads are in the right place. Our spiritual walk is in the right place – and that’s not something you experience when you are 20. I’m very excited about the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life – someone who wouldn’t get that chance…
“How easy is it to provide three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and love? It’s so simple. It seems easy to me – these are just things we take for granted,” Joy said.
“These aren’t bad kids – these are kids that come out of a bad situation – abuse — sexual and physical – neglect – no food… doing what I do, I see it a lot,” Jamie said. “(Many people) have no clue the battle these kids have to wage each day just to survive. They have to figure out where they are going to get food, where they are going to sleep on a daily basis.
“Too many people turn their backs and walk away. And, a large part of our community passes judgment on them because of their situations. It’s time to do something about it and we are absolutely all in.”
Joy is going through the in-depth process of being licensed by the state as a child group home provider. If all goes well the process should be complete by the middle to end of May. “Not only will I oversee all of the homes, I will be visiting the schools on a daily basis and be a presence in the schools, I will be programming night activities whether it is Bible study, homework or a therapy session – all of the things a parent does… I will make sure their needs are being met and help them find their niche in life – what they are interested in so they can find a job that they will like and enjoy,” she said.
Jamie explained The Chosen Ranch will teach four pillars to all youth under its roof. “When we take them, we will raise them and give them everything they need. Everyone who comes here is going to leave with this: Learn a work ethic — nothing is free; learn money management; learn time management; and – it’s all about Jesus. This is a Christian program. We will not push our faith down their throats, but they will spend time and learn about him.”
Quite a few of the lessons of responsibility, time and money management and more will come by having the youth involved in raising farm animals – cattle, chickens, horses — working in the garden and exploring and developing other interests like hunting and fishing, playing music, auto mechanics, carpentry, et cetera.
The most difficult aspect of his position, Jamie explained, is making the determination of who will be accepted because of the parameters that have been set by the board. He expects there will be many youth that The Chosen Ranch will not be able to take in because of various aspects of their background.
Another component of the Chosen program, is The Chosen Fellowship which will meet on Saturday nights at the Alcona High School auditorium. Jinny Dimercurio, special project manager, explained this aspect of the program will create a network of area churches and partner with them to help coordinate efforts to counsel, educate and engage residents to help one another through food banks, free stores, crisis counseling, community choirs, community work groups and a mentoring program that will match at risk teenagers with trained adults to provide advice and encouragement.
“The reason I wanted to get the fellowship (established) is to reach young people… to teach them to respect themselves and to respect others… to know their own value and worth. When they understand their value they won’t get caught up in life altering relationships that may produce a child – which is beautiful and a gift from God – but it’s so much better when that gift is received when there are two capable, adult parents who can raise the child together.”
Jinny plans to implement life skills classes into the fellowship program. “Life skills classes are really important to me – classes on dating, marriage, money management …” We need to find people that can teach these classes. We can’t go any farther until we get volunteers to do the classes.”
All of the board members are clear in stating The Chosen Fellowship is not a church. “We are not starting a church. There are enough churches in Alcona County,” Frank said. “We are trying to tie the community together to work toward the greater good and there is no greater good than our children… All of this coming together has been such a joy to watch and experience. All of the wonderful people that we’ve meet and so many people and businesses who have offered their help and services…”
To learn more about The Chosen Ranch and The Chosen Fellowship, the first fellowship will be held on Saturday, April 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Alcona High School auditorium on Barlow Road. There will be music, guest speakers and refreshments throughout the evening. There will also be opportunities for individuals, businesses and organizations to get involved.
For more information or to make a donation, see the Chosen Ranch Facebook page; the website www.chosenranch.org; write to: The Chosen Ranch, P.O. Box 190, Lincoln, Mich. 48742 or call Jamie at (231) 233-2216 or Frank at (248) 761-1052.
(This article was published in the Alcona County Review on March 18, 2015.)