By Former Executive Director Mike Petrillo
Welcome to the Ranch! Those words were part of my introduction to CER long ago, and, 50 years later, they still convey the warmth and joy of acceptance and belonging that comes from God’s family. During that first visit, in 1971, I felt the Lord’s peace amongst the trees and meadows. The tranquil water of the Lodge pond was disturbed only by the fish nibbling near the surface, and the bullfrogs croaking along the shore. Two friends of mine had recently been baptized in those same waters, and they had conveyed to me the excitement of meeting with Jesus here at the Ranch. The murky waters have enveloped many more who sought God’s peace through repentance in Christ these past five decades—too many to count—and the angels have seemingly been on permanent choir duty above the pond ever since.
God brought the founding family, the Cecils, here for their first look in 1969. And by the time CER was incorporated in 1970, the “Welcome to the Ranch” phrase had become part of the daily lexicon of life. New Christians were born again, struggling brothers and sisters found peace and healing. Fellowship and worship and prayer and preaching took their place alongside the machinery of Ranch chores, work projects, and meal preparations. Those shared family experiences all fit in to make the “welcome” a unique and powerful experience.
From WORLD Magazine:
"In 2006 we started giving Hope Awards for Effective Compassion to some of the best homeless shelters, pregnancy resource centers, free clinics, prison rehabilitation ministries, inner-city Christian schools, rehab centers, and immigrant helpers.
We profile these ministries to honor those who love their neighbor well, and also to lay out common principles that actually help break the vicious cycle of poverty—principles we hope others can emulate. What follows are some principles we’ve observed from 16 years of covering effective poverty-fighters."
Christian Encounter was highlighted for the principle of discernment. Read excerpt below or read article in full here.
“Is this a cannot, or a will not?” That’s something the staff at Christian Encounter in Grass Valley, Calif., a residential youth program, often ask when a kid acts out. Discerning between “cannot” and “will not” leads to completely different responses and results.
Christian Encounter daily sees the pervasive realities of childhood trauma, which can stunt physical, social-emotional, and cognitive growth. One boy refused to take showers because he said he didn’t deserve to be clean. When he did, he turned the water scalding hot to burn himself. Another kid stared listlessly at the wall and refused to make eye contact with anyone. Many have abused drugs and alcohol, engaged in risky behaviors, or attempted suicide. They arrive at Christian Encounter wounded. Many explode into streams of tears and expletives, disobey rules, or fail classes.
Instead of immediately taking a punitive approach, Christian Encounter staff try first to engage the youth, over and over, before they discipline. They ask questions, listen, and point out wrong behaviors. That doesn’t negate structure and responsibility. One girl refused to help with Christmas decorations. But there was a reason: This foster kid had never enjoyed holidays with her family. So she withdrew, expecting another horrible Christmas. Then one staff member told her firmly, “You can sit here and have another terrible Christmas, or you can get up and help because this year is different.” The girl chose to get up and had a great time.
That’s discernment: The staff member knew the girl enough to understand why she was sulking, but she also called her out on it and offered a better way. Such discernment leaves room for more personalized approaches. Sometimes a person may be reacting to trauma. Or it may be typical teenage troubles. Or he might just need a nap.
Help us win $10,000! Click here to vote for Christian Encounter in the Hope Awards.
Christian Encounter was nominated for WORLD Magazine's Hope Awards for Effective Compassion this year.
In April, WORLD Magazine senior reporter Sophia Lee and WORLD Radio reporter Sarah Schweinsberg came out for a visit.
Christian Encounter was picked as one of the four finalists in this year's Hope Awards because they thought we (along with the other three) "best reflected the personalized, challenging, and gospel-centered work of effective compassion. All four are doing the quiet, persevering work of fighting poverty, one soul and one community at a time."
Check out the magazine feature here
Check out the radio feature here
The ministry that gets the most votes will receive a $10,000 award.
Click here to vote!
Alumni, we’d love to hear from you! Let us know where you are and what you’re up to. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Neal (‘95-’96) lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife, Jamie. After they began fostering in 2015, they adopted Jose, 14, and Fern, 18. Steve has worked in investment operations for the past eight years but is looking to move into full-time ministry. He is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree through Gateway University.
Alexa Gates (‘11-’12) studied fashion at Santa Monica College and launched her own handmade candle business, Piaceri, in March. She resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Summer (Hoff) Barry (‘86-’87) and her husband Brad reside in St. George, UT and have two daughters, Mckenzie and Kate, who graduated from Delaware State University last month. Summer completed a B.S. in English in 2013 and did a brief stint in teaching before heading back to school to earn her architectural drafting certificate in 2017. She has since started Summer Barry Design, providing architectural and interior design. Summer created one of the top three (of 30) parade homes in the 2019 Saint George Parade of Homes.
Ember Caulfield (‘10-’11) lives in North Port, FL and is working as a medical assistant at a dermatology center.
Deena (Moench) Vargas (‘87-’88) lives in Oroville, CA, where she is active in Father’s House Ministry, a church busily meeting the practical needs of many in the community. She and husband Cory have been married 27 years; they have four children and a nine year-old granddaughter. Deena is a licensed optician and a manager at Costco.
Following his internship, Jonathan Mangano (‘13) attended Indiana Wesleyan University where he completed his Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. He has been working as a men’s domestic violence counselor since 2016 at Families First, a local non-profit agency, and more recently also began working in trauma counseling. Jonathan married his wife Kait in November 2014, and they just adopted a baby girl, Aila. They reside in Indianapolis, IN.
Melissa (Koch) Summers (‘00) and her husband Phillip met on the mission field in Ecuador and Peru and were married in 2005 with three former interns in the bridal party. They now have three children and live in Winston Salem, NC where they do ministry work in a primarily Latino-American neighborhood. Melissa works as a teachers’ assistant for first graders.
Emily (Hammer) Louisos (‘16) completed her Master of Social Work degree at the University at Buffalo, NY in 2018 and married her husband Elliot a month later. They welcomed their first child, Annabelle, to the world last June and live in Alexandria, VA. Emily received her licensure in January and works part-time at a private counseling practice.
David (‘95-’97) and Daphne (Vaughn) Huffman (‘95-’97) are in Portland, OR with their two children, Naomi and Eben. David continues in his career as an early intervention occupational therapist and Daphne works part-time at George Fox University as a social work professor. Naomi graduated 8th grade and enjoys drama and volleyball. Eben finished 6th grade and spends his time with the Boy Scouts and honing his archery skills.
Alumni, we'd love to hear from you! Email email@example.com.
By Andrew Nutt, student ‘08-’10
When I arrived at the Ranch as a student in 2008, I was a troubled young man, battling demons of addiction and insecurity. I reluctantly agreed to attend a residential “treatment” program after a sort of rock bottom, including legal repercussions for my substance abuse issues. I can clearly remember feeling super annoyed my first evening at the Ranch. Everybody was so friendly, happy, and genuinely interested in who I was, and for some reason it rubbed me the wrong way. In hindsight I can’t help but wonder if my irritability was caused by the evil and darkness in my heart at conflict with the love and light in my new environment.
During my tenure at Christian Encounter I experienced many struggles. I struggled to feel comfortable in my own skin as my mind cleared from years of pollutants. I struggled wrestling with my identity and learning who I really was. I struggled with identifying toxic influences in my personal life, establishing healthy boundaries, and letting people go. These were very real, painful experiences that were extremely challenging to navigate. It was a sincere battle with myself.
I can’t honestly say that my personal battles were over after leaving the Ranch, or that it was some sort of long-term saving grace. I still had much growing to do, as I will for the rest of my time on this earth. But my stay at the Ranch was a huge stepping stone on my path of learning to love others and myself, and letting the good Lord love me.
Now, many years down the road, I am a blessed man with a loving wife and two young children. My family and I live in the small mountain town of Pollock Pines, CA, where I grew up. I have a fulfilling career as a firefighter with the US Forest Service, and love what I do very much. I have continued to grow and learn, and have become a student of personal development. My wife and I make every effort to provide for our children the same environment that I had at the Ranch; one full of love, honesty, and the security that comes with living your life putting Jesus first.
I will always be grateful for my time at the Ranch and will forever remember the many evenings spent at the dock fishing, contemplating life, and enjoying God’s company.