By Kent Burrow

Bar-O Boys Ranch was established as an idea that became a reality in 1956. Its mission was to simply serve at risk youth.

The goal was to provide an environment to these youth that was serene, therapeutic by its natural surroundings and last but not least staffed by a group of individuals that deeply cared for the wellbeing of these youth.

The ultimate goal being the long term success in life’s journey regardless of the events that took place in the young man’s life that ultimately contributed to his being placed at Bar-O Boys Ranch.

Over the next 60-plus years, Bar-O continued to serve boys placed in our charge with the same undying commitment and passion to be there for them and provide a safe, caring and fun environment that actually promoted the idea to let these boys, who in many cases had to grow up too fast, be boys again. In the midst of all this, important relationships would form with the boys and the staff through the day to day interactions.

The boys learned to trust again, open up to the staff and also as important be held accountable for their shortcomings as a way for them to learn from their mistakes, refocus and move on.

We taught the boys that mistakes are not a sign of being a failure in life but an opportunity to learn and move on. Also, just as important was to show the boys that their past and all the turmoil that they, in most cases, suffered from as children with no control didn’t have to dictate who they were going to be as young adults moving forward.

The idea was to give them more control of their life in a healthy way that they could believe in… and it worked.

I walked on to Bar-O Ranch back in 1991. Having never worked with at risk youth and suddenly being titled a Youth Group Counselor had its challenges.

I had amazing mentors and leadership that brought me up to speed and taught me far too much to list in this writing. What I can tell you is that you can’t possibly work here and be effective with these boys unless you have your own emotional house in order. I can assure you I did not at the time. You see, I came here with issues too. Dysfunctional family, abandonment issues, past drug abuse issues. The list was long.

I am indebted to this program for the insight it has given me in my own life. I used to joke and still do to this day that “boy if my high school friends could see me now they would not believe what I do for a living” because of how screwed up I was as a teenager. Low and behold I found that my past struggles were my biggest job qualification. It didn’t take long to figure out the boys at our ranch thrived with the staff that could truly relate to their issues and past experiences.

Being able to empathize with them provided a sense of “somebody understands” for them. Simply put, been in their shoes and came out the other end somehow OK. It provided hope and a feeling of empowerment for these boys.

What an amazing experience it is to see positive change happen in a young man’s life. I am blessed to have been able to have this career choice and maybe have had an opportunity to give back in some way. When you are able to witness a boy have a true sense of self, develop a work ethic, give them new experiences and watch them become aware that the world is a big place and they can do with it what they want is amazing.

Bar-O for the last 62 years has remained nothing short of amazing in its described endeavor this whole time. This is a pretty good track record that I am proud to have been part of.

Today, Aug. 8, 2017, the dream that was once Bar-O has come to pass in Del-Norte County. Our board of supervisors was put in the unfortunate position to make the decision to shut us down.

There are many contributing factors that led to our current situation but the bottom line is how counties are dealing with their at risk youth is changing, sentencing laws are changing and at the end of it all what it means is that worthwhile programs such as Bar-O are being pushed aside to allow for new approaches. For the record, I am not a fan of the new approaches.

A special shout out to, Alan Smith, Thomas Greener, Pete Craig, Rod Bayer, Jerry Gilmer and all the people who made up Bar-O way back when and gave me my shot to be part of the “Dream” that you envisioned as Bar-O. Thank you.

Kent Burrow of Gasquet is director of Bar-O Boys Ranch.

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