Fostering Life Youth Ranch exists to take youth overpowered by mental health issues and empower them to lead thriving, abundant lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
There is something therapeutic about spending the day in the great outdoors and then topping the night off gathered around the campfire. Science has proven that being out in nature lowers our blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases energy levels and has been shown to increase the ability to focus, even in children with ADHD. It goes to reason then that a child is more likely to reap the benefits of behavioral therapy if he is hiking, horseback riding, repelling or sitting around the campfire than if you were to plop him down in a traditional room with four walls and stuffy furnishings.
No one knows this better than Micha and Brooke Foster. The adoptive parents of five children (plus two biological children), the Fosters have worked tirelessly to help troubled youth find the resources and get the help they need in order to make better life choices. What they have found time and time again though is that local young people in need of such resources typically have two options: stay home and receive traditional therapy or travel out of state and participate in recreational therapy. The closest statewide resource that’s even similar to what the Fosters plan to offer is in Santa Fe. For parents dealing with a troubled child, it is an added level of difficulty that makes it less likely the child will receive the resources needed to make a full and successful recovery.
“Recreational therapy is taking kids outside of traditional walls of mental health facilities, taking them on excursions, camping, hiking, repelling…using the outdoors to help break down those walls they’ve built up,” Brooke said. “When they’re around a campfire, we have found that they will open up in ways they typically don’t.”
She added, “We’re so consumed with life and there’s no down time or release any more; but when we finally get outside, it’s like the stress melts away.”
The Fosters plan includes treating the struggling students holistically and providing healthy physical outlets for their emotional distress. “Scientific studies have shown time and again that physical health and fitness tremendously improve mental well-being,” their About Us statement proclaims. “The physical aspects of the ranch will build self-confidence in our students, giving them tangible achievements of which they can be proud.” They add that the focus on physical well-being will not detract from psychological health, but will serve as a supplement to the mental aspects of the program.
How It All Started
Brooke, a tall woman with natural beauty and a gentle spirit, seems to have a soft spot for troubled youth, even dating back to her teenage years. Micha, on the other hand, was one of those troubled youth many years ago. The fact that the two of them met, let alone married, is something they both believe could only have been orchestrated by a much higher power.
Micha’s struggles began early when, at the age of three, his mother divorced his alcoholic father. Their mother was awarded custody of Micha and his siblings and his dad had to settle for visitation; a fact that did not sit well with the then alcoholic. “One day my dad kidnapped my sister and me and took us to California. No one knew where we were,” he shared. Although there were other siblings, his father only took the two of them and it took months for anyone to track them down. When his mother finally found Micha and his sister she flew out to California but due to her financial circumstances as a single mother, she could not afford to get them all back home to New Mexico. Instead, they all remained in California, making it their new home. “At the age of ten I started smoking weed. I smoked more and more, and was really just not in a good place,” he admitted. “Finally when I was 15, I moved back here (Artesia), but it was a huge culture shock for me – I mean, I was 10 minutes away from the ocean and then I came here and it was so different.”
As is often the case, one bad decision led to another and before long he found himself doing harder and harder drugs, eventually shooting up meth and cocaine. “By 11th grade I was selling drugs to kids at school,” he said. After nearly overdosing and then coming to a self-realization that something had to change, he moved back to California and went to work on a friend’s family Arabian horse ranch. Things were starting to look up for the teenaged Micha when about six months into his sobriety and new life in California, his sister’s boyfriend gave him a baggie containing methamphetamine. “I was driving with it in my possession, contemplating if I was going to use it or not when I saw red lights in the mirror,” he explained. “I was speeding, so I panicked and popped the whole thing [in my mouth]. I ditched the cop, but I was up for three-and-a-half days. I’m lucky I didn’t die. A week later I knew where I would get it from [if I stayed in California] so I moved back here.”
Not long after arriving back in Artesia, he spotted Brooke at Sonic one fateful day and boldly proclaimed to his friends, “That’s going to be my wife one day.” Brooke, on the other hand, was not as
smitten or as sure. “He had pink and blue hair,” she laughed. “And I knew he smoked weed. No way!”
Micha persisted and finally got her number. In the beginning her parents did not approve of the pink and blue haired boy that was coming off drugs but in love with their daughter. “He would stay at my house for hours and hours,” Brooke said as Micah interjected, “It was my safe place. I knew that if I was there I wasn’t going to be near drugs or anyone doing them. It was like rehab for me; my safe haven.”
Over time, Brooke’s feelings for Micha grew deeper and he eventually won her parents over as well. The rest, as they say, is history. Micha sobered up, married Brooke and together they have embarked on a life-changing journey of fostering children, adopting children, birthing children, mentoring children and helping troubled children at every turn. “My life experience will help these kids,” Micha said. “I went through physical abuse, emotional abuse, drug abuse…I’m someone they can relate to because I’ve lived a lot of what these kids are living.”
“Looking back, people like Clay Foster, Coach (Larry) Combs, Mr. Brown, Mrs. (Shelly) Ebarb, they helped me so much in school. They are the ones that loved me no matter what I was doing and that’s what these kids want – someone to meet them right where they’re at and that’s where we come in.”
Fostering Life Youth Ranch is a 501C3 program and donations are tax deductible. The Fosters are relying on buy-in from the community to help them build their dreams of opening the youth ranch in the coming year. “We want to provide a healthy environment for our students to ultimately overcome their addictions, anxieties and traumas. By the end of their stay they will have learned self-confidence, assurance of value because of the gospel, and the skills necessary to continue coping in a healthy way for the rest of their lives.”
Fostering Life Program
For middle school through high school students (ages 12-17)
• Provides a ranch style environment
• Intensive/Residential treatment facility
• Bringing an individual back to their optimal functioning through:
• Individual therapy: meeting with therapist individually
• Group therapy: teens meeting during structured times during the day to discuss group topics
• Family therapy: family sessions with parents that will promote healing within the family
• Equine therapy: a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote
• Recreational therapy: use of gardening, equine therapy, animal assisted therapy and outdoor excursions to bring about healing
• Art therapy: the use of art can provide
an outlet for addressing emotional and/ or problem behaviors through opportunities to learn new skills, develop new talents, and express thoughts and ideas in creative and therapeutic ways
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Aims to change patterns of thinking or behaviors that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): Helps a person identify their strengths and builds on them so they can feel better about him or herself, and their life. It helps them identify thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that makes life harder so that they can learn different ways of thinking.
What They’ll Learn
Gardening, budgeting, renting apartments, identifying and maintaining healthy relationships
Resume prep, job interviews, teaching the value of work, and customer relationship skills
Teach the importance of exercise and the value of nutrition, and connecting with nature to promote healing
Structured time throughout the day dedicated to catching up, keeping up, or getting ahead
Fundraiser: Tickets are being sold until May 4 for a drawing to be held at Tate Branch Dodge on May 5. Grand prize will be a 2018 Jeep Renegade; and 1st and 2nd prizes will receive $100 each. Tickets are $20 donation. Winner will need to pay tax, title and license.
Donations: Other tax-deductible monetary donations can be made via the flyr-youthranch website. Donations of more than $1,000 need to be mailed in.