Steppin' Stone Farm Newsletter


The latest news from Steppin' Stone Farm - a residential Christian counseling program and schoolrss



Board Announces Donation

 

IN THE NEWS:

The Board of Steppin' Stone  Farm has voted to donate the land from the farm to the Florida Baptist Children's Homes.

For more information, read the TBO story:

Soon-to-close home for troubled girls to be donated to Florida Baptist Children's Home

 

 


Festival Wrapup

 

Thank you for your overwhelming support and kind expressions of love since we announced the Farm’s closing. We are moving along and working with the girls and families who are finishing their time with us. The board of directors met and voted to give the bulk of the assets to the Florida Baptist Children’s Home. A cash gift will also be made to the Florida Methodist Children’s Home. Both of these organizations have been around a long time and have great reputations for ministry to children in need. It looks like the Baptist Children’s Home will be using the Farm for ministry instead of selling it. Either way, we understand that they will need to decide what will be best for their ministry long term. The good news is that children in Florida will continue to be helped for many years to come because of the investments you have made with us here at the Farm.

We had a parent seminar February 1st on Smalley and Trent’s Two Sides of Love. We enjoy seeing everyone recognize their unique personality traits and how they can try to relate better to the ones they love. We were blessed again to have Bruce and Dawn McDonald help us. This time their daughter Lynn spoke. Lynn was a girl with us about 7 years ago. She has developed into a successful young woman who has graduated from college and has a great relationship with her family. They are wonderful people and were very helpful to both the parents and the girls here with us now.

Hannah Jones and her plants
Hannah With Her Plants
We had two girls participate in the Strawberry Festival plant and steer shows. Hannah Jones did a great job showing azaleas and drift roses. She won a ribbon for the best plants in her category! This was the first time she had ever shown plants and was in competition with many other kids who have done this for years. We appreciate Sue Harrell and Greg Shiver buying our plants during the silent and live auctions.
Madison with her steer, Patty

 

Our last steer, Patty, was shown by Madison Greany. Patty weighed over 1300 lbs and was in the largest weight class. This was also Madison’s first time raising and showing a steer. Madison looked like a pro. We had a lot of former girls and families along with former staff come and help us cheer during the auction. We wanted Madison to have the same experience as other girls had before. We were just as loud and Ron Hall from Mosaic bought our steer for $4.50 per pound. We appreciate Jon Poppell for helping get donations of pork and beef for the rest of this year. This was bitter sweet. We are sad that this was the Farm’s last festival, but so grateful for the love and support shown to us. 

 

Madison will also be graduating about the same time our newsletter goes out this month. She will be going to college and working. We are proud of her accomplishments and look forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for her. 

 

Since we have a smaller group of girls our staff are pitching in more than usual with the chores until they find new employment. Please keep them in your prayers as well. We love them and will miss them as they follow the Lord’s new direction. As you probably can imagine we have had a lot of response to the news of our closing. We have had so many kind thoughts and written words of appreciation that it is really overwhelming and uplifting. We thought that we would share some of these notes with you in our newsletters this final year. You all have been such a big part of this ministry that we feel these words are written to you as well.

 

I am sorry the “times” have led to closing The Farm. It is a wonderful idea and even more impressive is the execution of that idea over all these years. The story of the Farm is something that people admire. Having received the benefit of The Farm’s work leaves me a speechless admirer. We all need goals in our lives to experience true fulfillment. You must be very proud of yourself as you have accomplished more than most anyone I know. I am sorry to see it go, but I certainly understand why you can be “at peace” with it. With much gratitude, Steve Kurvin (father of one of our girls and faithful supporter).

 

 


 

 

Hi Steppin’ Stone Family! I was there in 2009-2010 (wow I can’t believe how long it’s been!). I just wanted to let you all know how much you really did help me... at first I didn’t realize how much the Farm did change me, ever since being there I haven’t had one thought of hurting myself and that is probably the biggest and most important hurdle I overcame there!! All of the staff at Steppin’ Stone have a big place in my heart and I dearly miss all of you. Some news about my rapidly changing life is I got married last month and we are expecting our daughter in February! I had a lot of challenges to overcome when I left the farm. But even through all of that God has blessed me beyond what I could even imagine in my life! Things couldn’t be any more perfect! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you did for me and for the love and encouragement you gave me while I was there! Take care and know you have changed many lives throughout your ministry. God bless all of you! Love always- Brianna Graham

 

Thank you again for all the support you have given through the last 41 years.

In Him, 

 

Cindy and the Staff


Changes

 
Dear Friends,

We have come to a place that I never thought we would be. We are going to close the Steppin’ Stone Farm program for girls by the end of 2014. We will honor our commitments to the girls and families that are here now, but will not be accepting any new placements. Although this decision is a recent one, it has been made due to societal issues that we have noticed increasing over the last several years. Our board reached this decision only after much deliberation and consultation with myself, attorneys, and our CPA.

The reason for starting this ministry and what made it unique.

In 1973 the Keisers started the farm because there was a need. Even with a court order there was no place for a family to force their teenage daughter into a long term residential program no matter how badly she needed it, if she didn’t want to go or refused to cooperate after placement. The farm offered a Christian, involuntary minimum one-year commitment, work ethic oriented, behavioral model instead of a medical model. If the girl was not doing well, instead of being released early her minimum one-year stay would be extended. A girl would not be recommended to go home until after she made consistent positive behavioral change over time.Since being appointed executive director in 1991, I have sent home only a handful of girls. Those sent home before completing the program appeared to have mental health issues beyond what we could handle or had a very low IQ that was not revealed to us by the family during the placement interview.

Christmas 2013

How we have adapted to our circumstances and kept our mission.

Through the years, this ministry has adapted and honed what works in order to help the girls and their families. When I came in 1977, the farm took state placement along with parental placement through court order. It was difficult to impose discipline upon girls from state placements that did not have families. Our regular discipline of cancelling “off the farm” visits did not apply to them and therefore was not a deterrent.

 

In addition, even though we have the best sheriff’s department around, their hands are tied by a legal system that does not swiftly penalize the girls for running away or attacking the staff. A teenager has to be brought to court numerous times or do something heinous before being sent to Juvenile Detention Center. In the early 80’s we learned this first hand. We called the sheriff because one of the girls became violent and attacked the staff and other girls. She went to the Juvenile Assessment Center, was assessed, and then we were told to come pick her up at 3 am. Talk about empowering the offender. The situation was worse after she came back to the farm.


We realized that if we didn’t have the legal system behind us, we had to require the parents to support us. Therefore in 1984, Grandma Keiser surrendered her state license and became a member of the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies so that our parents could directly give us the authority to continue to chase the girls if they ran away and keep taking them to church even though they were placed here involuntarily. Because the girls knew this, we seldom had runaways or violence. We also gave help to the parents through counseling and parent seminars. If a set of parents did not work with us then we would send their daughter home. This has worked for many years, ‘til now.

What has caused this decision to close?

Due to the lack of cooperation with a large percentage of the families with whom we are working, in order to cover ourselves we have had to document or “write up” more discussions with parents than with their daughters over the last three years. This lack of parental support undermines what we can do with their daughters and undermines the program as a whole because of the effect it has on the families who are trying to comply.
We can’t help girls who don’t want to be here and have parents who just want us to babysit without any support or change on their part. Since we don’t have a legal system that is able to support us effectively, we really have no choice. We have prayed about this and we would rather close the ministry and finish well than have to slowly watch it deteriorate and have it become an unsafe environment for our staff and girls. This model, taking teenage girls involuntarily for a minimum one-year commitment within a Christian program, will not continue to work given the societal factors that I have just described. Other ministries have tried this model, opening after us, and have already closed.

What will happen to the farm’s assets?

We will continue to function and expect to have girls with us until December 2014. We have several girls showing plants and steers in February/March at the Strawberry Festival, a graduation in March, and a graduation in July. These continuing operations in 2014 will be carried out under a plan of liquidation and Articles of Dissolution of Steppin’ Stone Farm, Inc., which will be adopted and filed with the State of Florida early in 2014. The plan of liquidation will include the sale of the farm’s assets and distribution of the sale proceeds to Christian homes for abused and neglected children. The college scholarship fund will continue for several years and then also be distributed to Christian homes for abused and neglected children. Christian ministries serving abused and neglected children who are willing participants and do not require involuntary placements still can thrive.

My heart is overwhelmed and saddened, but at peace. As I walk around the farm and see the beautiful cottages and grounds, I see the love of Christ through the original sacrifice of the Keisers and those of many volunteers and supporters up through today. I see the love of our donors and volunteers who have made this program work much longer than anyone ever thought possible. Approximately 900 girls have had the opportunity to experience God’s love, learn self-discipline, a work ethic, and respect for themselves and others. Many would not be alive had it not been for you. I would not be alive had it not been for Grandma and Grandpa Keiser and the many people back then who supported their effort. Thank you for your love and support.


In Him,


Cindy and the Staff

 


Thanksgiving and getting ready for Christmas at the Farm

 

    We hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We always have a big crowd. Dusty Willis has been smoking our Thanksgiving turkeys for many years now.

Girls Making Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving
Girls Making Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving
Since we had pork donated through the Hillsborough County Fair, we decided to serve it as well. The parents always bring along their favorite dishes and usually the girls request a lot of dessert. A number of years ago, we started the tradition of having dessert for breakfast on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving. After breakfast we put away the fall decorations and start decorating for Christmas. We like to have some traditions that continue so that whether a girl had been at the farm in 1970’s or in 2013 they would still have some shared memories that would remind them of their time here.

 

    We are looking forward to Christmas and for the girls’ involvement in the Christmas Cantata at First Baptist Plant City. Many of them will be angels and some of our newer girls are trying to get moved up to the next level in time to participate. This is another tradition that has been meaningful to the girls over the last 20 years.

    We are always trying to help the girls learn to focus on others and learn to appreciate all the blessings that they have received from their families, our volunteers and supporters, and our staff. Ultimately, we hope that they will see the hand of God in all the good things that have come their way and want to help others as they have been helped. For a number of years Lamar and Nancy Ross have lead a group of volunteers to help the girls put together shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. Since 1993, more than 100 million boys and girls in over 130 countries have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child. One year we saw how the Lord works in a very special way. As one of our girls was filling a shoe box with gifts, she remembered receiving one herself when she was living in Kazakhstan before she had been adopted by her family here in the United States. It reminded all of us that we are very blessed.

Girls Working in the Kitchen
The Girls Working in the Kitchen
Girls sitting around campfire
Dave Crum's Birthday Party

 

We love to share the girls’ testimonies to let you know how much we appreciate you. We hope it helps you to see how much your support makes a difference to the girls and to their families. The following is Taylor’s story.

Before I came to the farm, I had no respect for authority and was driven by selfish motives. All I cared about was me. When I was little my mom was in and out of jail for using and selling drugs. My dad raised my sister and me in a Christian home but we resented him. We grew dependent on each other. As I got older, I grew more insatiable, nothing was ever good enough. I wouldn’t take the word "no" as an answer and was willing to throw a tantrum anywhere, especially in public. When I turned 13 my half-sister was born and my mom passed away a week later. I pinned this on my dad, his new love, and God. The next year my older sister moved out to live with her boyfriend. I secluded myself from my family and started doing things that I didn’t like to get the approval from people who didn’t care about me. I put my life and safety at risk and started dating a guy, revolving my life around him 24/7. At home my relationship with dad consisted of all lies. I’d tell him I’d be one place and be halfway across town. This resulted in constant fighting. Two weeks before coming to the farm, I was kicked out of my house. My dad realized he was losing his daughter and that he needed to do something fast so he brought me to the farm. When I first got there, I was convinced that I didn’t need to change. Over time the change came. I rededicated my life to Christ and was baptized. I left the farm in the highest level of leadership with a 3.4 GPA. My relationship with my dad is 110% better. Most of all, I stopped allowing my Mom’s death to define my life and found my true inner-self. I am a joyful, constant smiling teenage girl because of the staff at the farm and their faith. They became my second family. I couldn’t be more grateful for the second chance God had laid in my hands.

Taylor came to visit with several other former girls for our Octoberfest cookout. She is home and doing well. Thank you for helping give Taylor and many other girls a second chance.

 

 

Lady Drinking Water from the Horse Trough
Lady Drinking Water from the Horse Trough

God bless you and we hope you have a blessed Christmas.

 

 

In Him, Cindy and Staff


Summer Wrap Up! Encouraging Words from Taylor and Hannah

 
United Way Suncoast Day of Caring
United Way Suncoast Day of Caring

I can’t believe it is already fall! The summer just flew by. Our school keeps going strong throughout the summer enabling the girls to catch

up if they are behind. However, just before the new school term starts they get a week off for a “summer break”. They do a lot of activities on and off the farm. For over 30 years, the Dolphin Beach Resort has been hosting one of our favorite activities where they provide a great lunch, use of their pool, and the beach. It doesn’t get better than that! Kathy Carpenter, our math teacher, has some friends that have a swimming pond, with a slide and a zip line that goes across the pond! The girls loved it. Dusty prepared lunch for the girls at Medard Park. We also took advantage of our facilities here at the farm. They played tennis with Dave Crum twice during the week and kept up with caring for our animals. It was a busy week, but overall everyone seemed to appreciate the break and were ready to go back to school.

 

Summer Break at Medard Park
We try hard to balance work and play. This may seem obvious, but if we do all fun things and no chores, the girls start getting an attitude. So even though we are having a good time, we still have our daily chores to keep up with. We believe that we are preparing them for life outside the farm. Most responsible, successful people are able to balance responsibilities with entertainment. Prior to coming to the farm, our girls often just wanted to have fun, no responsibilities, and have someone else pay for it. Being at the farm for a minimum commitment of a year, sometimes longer, helps to establish a pattern of behavior that will continue after they leave. They end up appreciating the structure and are happier with it than without it. The most successful girls will even create their own structure long after they return home.

 

We had our last parent seminar for the year at the end of August. We have four each year. We have had some parents come back to help us share useful information with our families to help them create more effective ways of parenting their daughter when she returns home. We have one family that has helped us the most. Bruce and Dawn McDonald have been coming out and helping with our seminars now for several years after their daughter Lynn returned home. The do such a good job presenting and also are available to other families when they need someone who understands what they are going through. We appreciate them giving back to this ministry.

Girls Fishing
Lauren and Leah Fishing

 

We had our annual United Way Suncoast Day of Caring the first week of October. Publix, CF Industries, and Sunshine State Bank came to put up fence, paint, landscape, and anything else that needed to be done around the farm. Publix for several years now has been bringing out over 100 employees for the day. Everything looks great. We could never get so much done all at once without their help. What a blessing.

With summer school ending and our new fall term just started, we happen to have a lot of new girls right now. It has had its challenges, but for the most part, things have gone pretty well. Some days are harder than others and then we will hear words of encouragement from Taylor, one of our girls who returned home in December 2012. She writes, 

I hope that you don’t get discouraged. I was reminded recently of how grateful I am of the farm. I mean you guys saved my life and gave me a second chance. Even with my ups and downs, I learned from those events the most, AND came a very long way. The farm is a beautiful, comfortable place with so many memories. You guys will always be in my heart because of the feeling of someone never giving up on you even when you guys were disappointed. I love you guys... I really do. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction when I was at my low. Thank you for everything.

We also heard from Hannah who graduated from our school the end of summer and is working while attending college.She writes, 

I am 18 years old. I grew up in a Christian home. I always went to church but I never really took what was being preached to heart. I was hanging out with people who knew they could control me. I became verbally abusive and I would lie to my family. I eventually wanted nothing to do with anyone. My parents sought help from many places but nothing seemed to be working. Then my parents found the farm. At first I didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to change. After a few months I saw what needed to be changed and I began working on it. It wasn’t easy, I made a few mistakes along the way but they helped me see the areas I still needed to work on. I also rededicated my life back to Christ during my time at the farm. I left recommended and I also graduated high school at the farm. This experience has saved my family and my life. I can’t wait to see what God will do with my life. I recommend the farm to people because I know that Miss Cindy and the Staff there really do care about us and they want us to become proper women of God.

I hope that these words of encouragement from these kind and thoughtful young women will help to lift you up and let you know how very much we appreciate all of you.

 

In Him,

 

 

Cindy and the staff

 

Lady is always the center of attention!

 


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