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Imagine for a moment that this is your life as a teen:
You live at the base of the Smoky Mountains. When it snows, you go sledding. When the sun is shining, you ride horses, go for a hike, or eat lunch in the grass with fresh produce from your garden.
Your home spans 120 acres and is a full working ranch. This is no normal life. In some ways, it’s a dream.
In other ways, though, it’s rather typical. You watch movies, get online, and hang out with friends. You have a bossy older sister and a sometimes-annoying younger sister. You go to school. You work.
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Your days are a blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Hold That Thought
Your parents, though, aren’t around. Maybe they’re in prison. Maybe they passed away. Maybe they just can’t afford to take care of you. And those sisters? They’ve got the same issues with their own folks.
This is the life of the kids and teens at the Wears Valley Ranch.
You can probably guess that most of them have had a tough past. Thankfully, house parents like Mark and Lauren Estes see to it that the present is full of love.
Shine the Light
Mark and Lauren, along with their two daughters (pictured above), arrived at Wears Valley Ranch in September 2013. Seven girls—ages 10 to 16—currently live in their home. Every morning they gather for devotions, and throughout the day, they place an emphasis on speaking truth to girls who are used to darkness.
As a result, many of the girls are growing not just in age or stature, but also in maturity and spiritual health. “It blows my mind to see what the Lord does here. He is so present,” says Lauren.
Unfortunately, one area kept coming up short.
Change Your Mind
Money. With parents who are broke, gone or in jail, most of the girls at Wears Valley Ranch were confused about how to handle money. Forget living paycheck to paycheck—some of their parents struggled to even do that. When Mark and Lauren asked the girls about debt, the answer was always the same: You have to have it.
Determined to change their minds before it was too late, Mark and Lauren decided to offer the Generation Change Bible study to all interested teens on the ranch. In just three weeks’ time, it wasn’t only the girls’ minds that were changed.
Change Your Heart
Mark and Lauren offered coffee, junk food and 30 minutes of hangout time before starting class. These small treats helped the girls connect to one another and opened up the door for conversation.
As the class continued, problems—and their solutions—emerged.
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One young lady admitted that she loaned $600 to her mom before arriving at the ranch. $600! To her mom! And the mom hadn’t followed through with her promise to pay her daughter back. Mark and Lauren were able to encourage the girl to let go of her frustrations—along with the hope that she’d ever be repaid—and to avoid loaning money to her mom in the future.
Another girl recently graduated and moved away from the ranch. She still budgets every month and is saving to buy a car, even though she feels pressure to take on debt for a new one.
A third girl in the class is 17 and works at a restaurant in a nearby town. She’s a big spender, with 80+ pairs of shoes and a line on her budget to save for more.
Lauren says, “She is my favorite success story.”
This girl planned to attend a private university where she could follow her calling and spread her social-butterfly wings. Within three weeks of starting Generation Change, though, she’s okay with an alternate route. She’s applying for scholarships like crazy, and if she ends up with a free ride to the private university, she’ll go ahead with her plans. Otherwise, she’ll start out at a local junior college and avoid student loans altogether.
“This change,” Lauren explains, “is a heart change.”
Related: The Domino Effect of Student Loans
For All Walks of Life
For girls like these, Wears Valley Ranch is more than a fun place to live. It’s a godsend. Little by little, God is redeeming their past, enriching their present, and preparing them for the future. Generation Change is honored to play just one small part in their lives.
Generation Change gives teens a strong biblical foundation for life and money. Learn more about how the three-part Bible study can be incorporated into your teens’ lives.