Mustard Seed is a non-denominational privately ran home for children. It accepts absolutely no government money, and depends on donations from folks like us to keep it up and going. It’s expensive to take care of this many kids, but MSR does an amazing job on a tight budget! So let me tell you how it works:
The ranch’s administrative decisions are made by the main director, a full time staff member. Below her are the house parents. These are the people who are the heart of the ranch, and have the most responsibility on their shoulders. Greg and Kim Julian are parents of the boys’ house, and Albert and Becky Willis are parents of the girls’ house. Right now there are 8 kids at the boys’ house and 7 at the girls’ house. The house parents are, well, parents! They handle pretty much every aspect of the kids’ lives. They get them up for school in the morning, help with homework in the evening, run them around to orthodontist appointments and football practice, cook dinner, help pack lunches, provide moral instruction when necessary, host birthday parties, etc. They do everything my parents did, but they do it for at least seven kids! That’s what makes MSR so awesome; there’s no institutional feel –it really is a home with family.
Helping the house parents are the live-in Interns. Both interns live in the girls’ house right now. Katie Coggins helps Albert and Becky, and Tabitha Howard helps Greg and Kim. They are baby sitters extrodinaire. These girls also shuttle kids around, help with homework, handle dinner some nights, and basically provide support where the parents need it. The interns also help in the school.
Some of the kids who come to MSR are a little behind in school, and some have learning disabilities, like dyslexia. The goal is to get these kids caught up enough to reenter public school, but until they are ready, they attend the homeschool that the ranch runs. Joyelle Hudson, who holds her teacher’s certification in Tennesee, from TTU, runs the school and is the primary educator for the kids. She is assisted by the two interns, and Kayla, MSR’s jack of all trades. I think Kayla is kind of like the assistant director. As far as I know she doesn’t have A job, she has about 30 jobs! And finally there’s Rachel, she’s the on sight social worker who liases with the state.
Because everyone at the ranch works super hard ALL the time, one weekend a month, the kids are allowed to spend the weekend with relief houseparents. That’s what Brinn and I are. Relief houseparents lighten the load of house parents by giving them one whole weekend of silence, comparitvely. Relief houseparents have to be approved by the state, and are required to pass a federal background check as well as having a walk through of their homes.
In addition to relief weekends, some of the kids get to spend a couple of weekends a year with their biological families, and a week both at Christmas and over the the 4th of July. Two of the boys aren’t always able to do this because of long distance traveling, so they usually spend that time with Brinn and I, or with Bill and Lori, some other relief parents. These kids really bond with their relief parents. When we stopped at a gas station to fill up on a drive home one day, Brinn and Sam went inside to grab some drinks. I sat in the jeep. Sam cares enough about his relief family that he recalled a tiny detail about me, and he stopped Brinn from buying a bottle of Dr. Pepper because he remembered that Mrs. Ashlee likes Dr. Pepper better from a can.
The MSR kids stay pretty busy. Several of the boys played baseball over thes ummer, and football this fall. The girls are taking kick boxing and dance. The boys live for hunting and fishing. All the kids are also taking riding lessons. The ranch is fortunate to be situated on 200 acres, and has some EXCELLENT fencing. Gracie and Jesse are the two ranch horses. Jesse’s owner donated him a few years back, and Gracie’s owners, Chris and Shelly Lawson (they used to own Mount & Rider, the most awesome tack store Knoxville ever had) have loaned her to us for ranch use. From time to time, Bear and Reggie fill in for lesson ponies as well.
The staff and residents at the ranch have come to be family for us. I am head over heels in love with each one of them, and am thrilled to have the opportunity to raise Ian as part of such a large, crazy family. He has some pretty amazing brothers and sisters who really care about him. Ben has already said that he’s going to coach Ian’s little league football team. Lil jokes about being such a good baby sitter because he “soothes Ian’s soul.” Sam grabs Ian away from Tabitha every chance he gets and tells him all the reasons why he’s going to love deer hunting. Zack, one of the most high energy kids I’ve ever met, will sit patiently and feed Ian his bottle. Greg and Kim came to visit Ian at the hospital just hours after he was born. And this treatment started before Ian was even born; shortly before Ian was born the ranch threw a surprise baby shower and truly showered us with gifts for Ian. All of the kids and staff attended and presented us with the sweetest handmade cards. Who could ask for a better family? Sometimes I feel guilty. Plenty of people have little family, but I have my family of Ian, Brinn, and the critters; then my extended family with some fantastic parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; and finally my ranch family.