ORLANDO, Fla. – Through the principles of faith and love, a Central Florida organization has been getting results for thousands of families for decades.
Edgewood Children's Ranch in Orlando is a place where children ages 7 to 17 can go to school, live, play and worship.
Founded in 1966, Edgewood Children's Ranch was developed with the hope of creating stronger family bonds.
"They come here with some -- a lot of -- woundedness and a lot of hurt and a lot of anger. We want the child to say, 'Yeah, I could use a little bit of help,'" Stuart Eldridge, the executive director of the facility, said.
Eldridge became part of the nonprofit 36 years ago.
"We're not a lockup facility, so a child has to agree to come to our program. We don't want to try to force our program onto anybody," Eldridge said about the Christian-based organization.
The kids receive one-on-one education in a classroom setting. Edgewood Children's Ranch spans 110 acres. It includes a gym with a basketball court, a soccer field, a pool and a baseball field.
It also has a chapel, where the children go to worship. The organization has a spiritual focus and believes prayer and a loving environment are key to the healing process.
"Our whole goal is to get the families reunited. They all have their own story and they all have their own thing that they're working on," Eldridge said.
The kids live in cottages alongside a couple who is willing to live on-site, as well.
Twelve-year-old Hayden Hardesty has been living there for more than a year.
"It's changed a lot, like with my relationship with God and with my family," Hardesty said.
The organization operates solely on donations.
"We don't take any state or federal monies to keep our program, to keep our doors open. A lot of it has to come through donations and giving. That's what we depend on. And we're in the cafeteria here, and even all of our food is donated," Eldridge said.
In the cafeteria, the kids help prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, and help clean up after each meal.
Jack Van Lente volunteers during six months at the facility and helps out with maintenance.
"The most meaningful experience is the relationships you build with the kids, with the staff, but also, when you go to bed at night, you're tired, and as you look back at the day, you say, 'I would rather be here than any place else on Earth,' and I get emotional about that," Van Lente said.
The ranch has brought hope for a brighter future to 14-year-old Yafiel Lopez.
"It changed me greatly. Honestly, before I came here, I thought mostly throughout my life, I had a messed-up turn, but when I came here, it all changed. I'm now on the right road. I'm just happy to be here. This place honestly gave me a chance, a second chance in life," Lopez said.
The organization does not take in kids from out of state, as its focus is on the Central Florida area.
Children in the program get to go home to see family during the holidays and, on Sundays after church service, they also spend time with their parents.
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