Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch provides a home for school-age girls from troubled backgrounds. For many, the long-term residential program is their first safe place to live, grow and be part of a functioning family. But make no mistake, it’s also a working ranch, complete with cows, chickens and horses, and the girls are central to their care.
Tending to all those animals brings plenty of rewards – but Ranch Director Candice Gulley admits there can be difficulties. “Our animal-based programs teach resiliency,” she explains. “Although you may fall off a horse, dust yourself off and try again. We hope the girls carry this principle with them into their adult lives.”
Those animals are also what sets Tallapoosa apart from other programs designed to help children in crisis. Sure, it’s a hands-on way to teach responsibility and the value of hard work – but Candice says the girls get so much more. “We use these programs to help kids look beyond their past and see a future they can be proud of,” she maintains.
Of course, it’s not all work. All the girls live in family situations at the Ranch, which includes five separate homes, along with a pool, gym, chapel and more. Then there’s the therapeutic benefits of simply being surrounded by nature. Holly Brown, a regular volunteer at the ranch, points out the calming effect animals can have. “Animal-based programs can take away anxiety, fear, depression and build a child’s confidence,” she says.
During her nine years with the organization, Candice and her husband have been “Mom” and “Dad” to 74 girls. In that time, she’s seen plenty of transformation – not just in the children’s outlook on life, but in her own as well. “Working alongside these girls has challenged me to become a better person and role model for kids that need it most,” she contends. “It’s not just a job, these girls are my family.”