Wes grew up in a large family. After having two kids of their own, Wes’ parents had adopted four children, including his half-brother. When Wes was born, he joined their family at thirteen months. In the coming years, his parents would adopt three more children and foster several more. Wes didn’t have a shortage of playmates, but the challenge was their lack of permanency. Wes’ parents stopped taking foster kids into their home as Wes neared his pre-teen years, but his parents’ divorce threatened the ongoing stability of the family.
The shared custody agreement thrusted Wes back and forth between homes week after week. Wes’ father continued to abuse alcohol and began to take it out on his children after the separation. As his parents began to independently take disciplinary measures in response to Wes’ behavior, he discovered he could avoid consequences by switching households. Although Wes’ mother would eventually take sole custody of the children, Wes had already learned how to slip under the radar, and once he entered the public school system, Wes was just another kid in a sea of faces.
Wes arrived at the Ranch after exhausting all local schooling options, with a plummeting GPA of .3. He had donned a state of indifference towards life, adopting it as a sort of life motto. Being indifferent meant you couldn’t get hurt. It meant you didn’t have expectations or hopes of anyone or anything, so you could never be disappointed. Being in-different was wearing a protective sleeve over his heart.
In the beginning of his stay, Wes wore jeans and a hoodie everyday, even through the summer. He had a full head of curls that obscured his face. It was easy enough to comply with the daily schedule, and Wes walked the 100 feet everyday to class. His teachers were there to greet him and set an individualized plan to help him towards academic recovery.
As summer was winding down, it was time for the annual 15-day backpacking trip. Wes bounded up hillsides and rocks ahead of his team to scout routes. Every morning before they set out they were assigned a hiking buddy for the day. Day three became day fourteen, and Wes recognized that out in the wilderness his peers had become friends and his authority had become trustworthy.
Wes continued to make the daily investment in his school work and began to see his GPA climb. His teachers informed him of the possibility of receiving a high school diploma if he kept at it. Thanksgiving turned to Christmas, and Wes, along with his peers, donned suit vests and sport coats for the occasion. A new pair of Vans, a disc golf set, a Hydroflask, and a new Bible under the tree.
It was becoming harder to stay indifferent.
Not too long after, Wes had the opportunity to summit Andesite Peak at 8,200 feet during the four-day snow trip. Wes was accompanied by male interns and staff being the only student who had expressed interest in the hike. As they approached the ridgeline, the force of the wind threatened to knock Wes off his feet. Like a protective shield, Wes’ leaders came around him, further reinforcing the message of love, safety, and care - for the one.
Wes shared a pencil drawing with me from his sketchbook the other day. On the page was a branch that had words written all over it. Words like unwanted, mistake, accident. Undeserving, disappointment, hopeless. Pain, contempt, hatred. But from this branch were leaves, growth, new life.
A new leaf springs up when Wes plays a round of disc golf with his dorm leader Kevin, or when he takes another step in sharing his story, or when he reads his Bible. As Wes grows to see his role in this family more clearly, we are confident that new life will continue to spring up in the dead, negative places.