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Boys Ranch fights stigma

To some Fargo residents, a new Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch in their neighborhood means an unsafe lockup detention where runaways might harm their children.

To some Fargo residents, a new Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch in their neighborhood means an unsafe lockup detention where runaways might harm their children.

Based on those beliefs, Boys Ranch officials say it's no surprise residents asked city commissioners in early June to reject a proposed facility on the south side of 76th Avenue South and 25th Street.

It's those stereotypes the organization is fighting as it works toward building a new campus this spring.

Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, a Christian ministry offering treatment for emotionally and behaviorally challenged kids, offers three programs in Fargo: a residential treatment center, a group home and an emergency safe home for children.

"We're dealing with kids who are supposedly really dangerous. No, they're just kids," Eric Wilkie, manager of the Fargo Residential Treatment Center, said Wednesday during a focus group discussion.

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The stigmas are ones that officials from the Boys Ranch are working to change, said Al Evon, chief operations officer for the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation, which raises funds for the organization.

The kids who receive treatment from the Boys Ranch often are victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, said Gene Kaseman, president of the Boys Ranch. Kaseman has served the ministry for 37 years. Other kids may have chemical addictions or emotional problems.

"They're good kids. They've just been placed in dire circumstances," Kaseman sad.

Commissioners killed the proposal to allow the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch to build a new facility in south Fargo to consolidate its three Fargo programs into one campus. The Boys Ranch still plans to build a new campus by next spring.

After commissioners denied their request, Boys Ranch officials began looking at what sorts of public perceptions exist regarding the faith-based ministry.

More than 20 community members participated in Wednesday's focus group, and many said prejudices toward the kids come from other parents.

"We think it's somebody else's kid. It's the 'us' and 'them' mentality. These are our kids," said Bill Rindy, bishop of the Eastern North Dakota Synod for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Kaseman said the proposed facility is designed to look like a farmstead and will have white buildings with winding roads to "make it blend into the community and not make it institutional."

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Boys Ranch has raised enough money to fund the multimillion-dollar project, Kaseman said. He won't name potential sites.

"We're trying to build grassroots support and build in the spring," he said. "We don't have any ill will toward the community. I know what we're doing is right and we will move on."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Rydell at (701) 235-7311

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