There were heavy hearts in the Hawkins House at the Special K Ranch last Friday.
Residents Andy Hedstrom, Mike Himes, Tyler Sproule and Shane Rodgers had just learned that their beloved house parents – Linda and Gary Jones – are retiring soon.
The Jones’ have lived at Hawkins House for more than 12 years, making the house a home for the boys.
Linda’s duties includes making meals, helping the residents with their IDPS (Individual Developmental Programs/Projects) and handling all the paperwork required for each resident’s bank account, etc. Gary is the ranch’s designated mechanic, maintaining and repairing the large fleet of vehicles and equipment. He is also one of the key delivery drivers for the wholesale bedding plant season several days a week from April through June. When he is not doing his Vocational Advisor job he is house “Dad” and helps with house duties, transports residents to appointments and when time allows, takes in recreational activities.
But it’s much more than that. The six are a family, pitching in to help one another when needed, as was the case about 1 1/2 years ago when Linda suffered a stroke.
“They all are a great help,” said Linda, noting the boys perform weekly chores, cook at least one meal a month and also take care of themselves.
“Fend for yourself weekends” as Shane puts it.
And then there’s all the fun.
Drag races in Billings.
Special Olympic events.
Cowboy Church at Columbus Evangelical.
Even shopping trips to WalMart.
“It’s the fun of family,” said Marvin Schieldt, program director at the ranch. “Just going to do stuff together.”
The Jones found their way to Special K from Billings when Linda came for a visit and loved it.
“The place just grabbed us,” said Gary.
His time has brought an unexpected gift.
“I’ve grown tremendous amounts spiritually, said Gary.
The decision to leave was a difficult one to make.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Andy.
“They are really great house parents,” echoed Shane.
The residents are quick to remind each other that the Jones will be just down the road in Billings and not out of their lives completely.
A PLACE LIKE NO OTHER
Just off Highway 10, at the end of a gravel road, sits the beautiful Special K Ranch.
More than 15 structures, including seven residential homes, occupy 220-acres owned by the ranch, plus another 40 acres that are leased.
The greenhouse complex covers approximately 60,000 square feet and includes a hydroponic tomato project that is open year round. Add to that a sheep barn, at least two storage buildings, two homes used by off-duty staff and visitors and an office building and the true size of the ranch’s existence starts coming into clearer focus.
It is an actual working ranch run by the 31 developmentally disabled adults who call it home.
Residents work on the ranch, live in homes, have their own banking accounts and are contributing members of society who give back.
The work varies and seldom is it a 40-hour week.
Lambing season demands long hours. Working the greenhouses calls for a lot of work time as well.
And it’s not just busy work.
Flowers and vegetables from those greenhouses are sold locally and in Billings with orders being contracted in the fall for wholesale customers all over the state. Greenhouse products are sold to more than 40 restaurants and stores in Montana and Wyoming.
The Native Plants and Land Reclamation Project is a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management and other organizations to raise indigenous plants, shrubs and trees for land restoration projects in the region.
A RANCH IS BORN
In 1984 the Billings Area Kiwanis Clubs were approached by a group of men who wanted to created an organization to serve developmentally disabled adults similar to one in Arizona, according to the ranch. A committee was formed, a name was chosen – Special K for Kiwanis – and in 1987 the first of four residents moved in.
Vocational activities include the horticulture program, a livestock operation, light manufacturing work, irrigating and other miscellaneous ranch chores.
Residents must be at least 18 and the program is designed for those who need to live in a supportive community for their entire lives. Each resident must be able to manage basic self-help skills.
The staff includes home advisors, or house parents, vocational advisors, managers who supervise ranch operations and special projects, an executive director, program director, development director as well as administrative staff.
The ranch is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) program with a strong Christian emphasis regarding philosophy and practice. Funding comes in three ways”
•Residents are charged a monthly fee that covers board, room, life services, training, counseling, transportation and general assistance. Each resident’s supplemental Social Security Income covers approximately half of that fee.
•Fundraising. The ranch depends heavily on private and corporate donations.