Entering 2020 with Joy and Anticipation

Life’s difficult moments and how we overcome often become the most significant parts of our story. It’s been true in my life and in the lives of the students we serve at Cookson Hills. Our students come from a myriad of backgrounds, but all have suffered tremendous loss and trauma. One can only imagine what it would be like to be a child trying to navigate such experiences.

Motivated by Loss

The Riley family in 2006!

My wife, Donna, and I entered the world of adoption and foster care over twenty years ago. The loss of two of our own children to genetic disorders motivated us to action. Our desire was to bring hope to the lives of children, providing them a home and parents who would love them unconditionally. Our family grew from three to eight with numerous foster children coming in and out along the way.

We would never change the way our family came to us or the opportunity to share our home with numerous children. However, it is hard to overstate the amount of dysfunction within the world of child care services. Seeing children caught in a system that seemed set up for failure broke our hearts more than once.

The Riley family in 2016!

At Cookson Hills, I have been blessed to see a different form of child care service. Having dealt with the foster care and adoption processes in three different states, I know the system of foster care and where it fails—and I know that Cookson Hills offers a much better opportunity for kids. That difference is what brought me to this ministry as the new Executive Director. 

Looking Forward

At Cookson Hills, we have entered year two of our 5-year strategic plan. Our goals this year will focus on enhancing programs, strengthening finances, and increasing employee tenure. As we journey into 2020, our 4 primary goals will be as follows:

1. Reach benchmark to operate within 85% capacity of 80 kids
You may recall, in 2018 we eliminated the short-term track from our program. Even with this change, some students are still here for shorter periods. For example, if a mother regains stability, she may choose to take her 3 children home after a 5 month stay. Therefore, enrollment numbers are always fluctuating and while we served 46 kids this year, those 46 kids were not all here at the same time. Our five-year goal is to serve within 85% capacity of 80 kids, at any given time, with home, school, and therapy. However, we need time to enroll this many kids and build the proper team to serve them. Therefore, our benchmark goal for 2020 is to operate at 50% capacity, serving 40 kids at any given time.

2. Students participate in 1,000 hours of relaunched equine facilitated programs
The benefits of equine facilitated programs seem to be endless. They help kids develop physical strength, self-awareness, trust, confidence, communication skills, and tools for working through anxiety. Some students are excited for this opportunity while others are fearful of working with such a large animal. Our goal is to encourage and empower students to collectively complete 1,000 hours of equine facilitated programs.

3. Complete phase 2 of the Footprint Project
In order to complete this phase of the project, we will be relocating 6 homes out of a floodplain, removing 6 more unnecessary buildings, and replacing outdated water infrastructure. The implementation of this project will allow us to better steward the resources God has entrusted to our care, as it will eliminate the waste of $50,000 and 5,000 man hours annually.

4. Invest in staff by raising an additional $100,000
One of the most effective ways we can continue to help the kids we serve is by making sure we have the best possible team. Our goal over this next year is to invest an additional $100,000 in salaries and retirement program incentives. These increases in salaries and retirement benefits allow us to invest and better care for our staff while also improving staff retention. Ultimately, we want to be a place where you can live out your life’s calling and enjoy a vibrant community, all while supporting yourself and a family.

Since my arrival a few months ago, I am even more convinced that what Cookson Hills offers our kids is unique and extremely valuable. God’s love is being poured into the lives of our kids. Houseparents are giving them the stability of a home away from home. They are provided amazing learning opportunities in our school. Our team coaches each student individually so that they can make positive choices in shaping their future. With joy and anticipation, I look forward to leading Cookson Hills during this new season ahead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Ron Riley, Executive Director, is from Council Bluffs, Iowa. After serving on the Cookson Hills Board for 2 years, he became Executive Director in July of 2019. He enjoys reading or listening to books, watching football, and spending time with his family.