Steppin' Stone Farm Newsletter


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



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!

 


Steppin' Stone Farm in the news!

 

The Plant City Observer recently visited the Farm to learn about how our program of Christian counseling helps troubled teenage girls turn their lives around.

If you missed it, you can see it online at http://plantcityobserver.com/2013/08/08/a-chance-to-change/

 

The girls of Steppin' Stone Farm
In between classes and responsibilities, the girls enjoy the summer

The girls got to spend a day of their summer break hanging out at the Smiths' pond

   


Old Friends, A New Website, and Gabby's Testimony

 

Alumni Visiting
Alumni Danielle & Sarah Visiting
Girls at Baseball Game
Girls at the Baseball Game
We had some of our alumni come and visit with us recently. Danielle (Carranza) Colon and Sarah Sims came out with Danielle’s three sweet little children. It was rewarding to see Danielle correcting them and how well behaved they were. It is unusual to enjoy eating with three children under the age of five. However, all her children were a delight and well mannered even at such a young age. Danielle and Sarah were not here at the same time, but had become friends only to realize later that they both had been at Steppin’ Stone Farm just at different times! We enjoyed visiting with both Danielle and Sarah, laughing about “farm” stuff just like family.

The girls were able to go to a baseball game over at Legends Field hosted by Reverend and Mrs. Salmon from St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Sun City Center. They got to see 4th of July fireworks, have hot dogs, and enjoy the game.

Amy, Rachel, and Hannah
Amy, Rachel, and Hannah
Girls riding horses on July 4th
Girls riding horses on July 4th
We just had six girls complete our program and return home at the end of summer school. Depending on their age, amount of credits, and when they enrolled with us some of the girls will complete our program and also graduate from our high school, Steppin’ Stone Academy. We have three different opportunities during the year for girls to have a graduation ceremony-May, July, and December. Hannah Kuntz just finished our program and graduated from our high school on July 26th. We are very happy for all the girls who recently went home and look forward to hearing from them soon.

We have a new website! Apparently according to our younger staff, our old one was kind of dated. A lot of our parents have said that they found the farm in spite of our website. Long ago when I was a girl, parents heard about us through word of mouth. We had a great reputation and never really had to worry about advertising. We still have many referrals that way, but the ease and anonymity of the internet is allowing parents to find help without having to share their issues with friends, family, or co-workers unless they choose to. Therefore, we realized that we needed to catch up. Other parents have said that they visited some of the programs that looked really great on the internet, but didn’t look so great when they actually saw the facility. They said the opposite about our website and actual facility. We have enjoyed getting pictures together and hope you will take time to check it out. http://www.steppinstonefarm.org WJP Enterprises has done a great job updating and hosting it.

 

Amy, Rachel, and Hannah
Citi Workday
Girls riding horses on July 4th
Citi has been coming out annually with a big group to volunteer and work around the farm. This year they came on two days and mowed, painted, weeded, and mulched making the farm look beautiful. One of our former girls, Rachel Houser, came and volunteered that day and helped with the mowing. Another day we had Gabby Wood and London Topp come out and help cook a wonderful meal for everyone. We love it when former girls not only come to visit, but help also. All three of these girls had shared their testimonies to groups before completing our program. Gabby emailed hers to share in this newsletter.

 

My name is Gabby. My father left when I was born, and my mom’s new boyfriend was horrible. In order to keep custody of me, the Department of Children and Family Services said she had to leave him. She wouldn’t, so before I was four I was taken away from her and sent to live with my great grandmother and many other family members. After two years the government had discovered how unfit they were for me. At six I was then placed with an old family friend who later adopted me when I was eight. My new mother was awesome. She did everything she could to give me an amazing life. In the sixth grade my new mom got very sick. I became very angry at God for taking everything away from me. In my crazy mind, it made sense that if I pushed those who loved me most away that it wouldn’t hurt so badly if they were gone, so that’s what I did. My mom needed to have treatment down in south Florida so I started my eighth grade year in a new city and school, which I took as an opportunity to let my temper and attitude get the best of me. I was so angry all the time. My mom wasn’t sure what to do with me until an SSF alumni told her about the farm. After I arrived at the farm, I was told I was acting like a victim. I thought that meant that bad things naturally were going to happen to me and I was allowed to be upset. Upon staying there for two years I learned it had nothing to do with anyone else but me. I was selfish. I blamed others for my problems. I thought everyone wanted to ruin my life, and I wanted pity. In my two years of being there I gained more knowledge and wisdom than I thought I would in ten. I earned friendships and a fantastic relationship with my family and, most importantly, God. I gained 14.5 high school credits. I emulated the great work ethic, manners and discipline shown to me by the staff. I learned how to make my world better with just my outlook on it. I can never express my gratitude enough for the staff and my peers, who were the greatest teachers of all. My mom has completed her treatment and I’m back at home now. I know I won’t be able to handle perfectly all that life will throw at me, and I still have to work very hard on my imperfections, but my weakness is made perfect in God’s strength. I am so excited to find out how God will use the life I’ve given to Him and the impact I can make in the lives of others with His help.

 

 

Thank you for helping save Gabby’s life and many others through your support and prayers.

 

In Him,

 

Cindy and the Staff


Website by WJP Enterprises, Inc.           
COPYRIGHT 2013 Steppin' Stone Farm, Inc.