In front of a packed courtroom at the Alamo Annex April 10, Lincoln County Planning Commission members voted to approve the request from KW Legacy Ranch in Hiko for another two-year special use permit to operate their facility, with the condition that KW Legacy Ranch obtain within six months the necessary license from the state to operate as a Group Foster Home. The vote was 5-0 with one abstention. Commissioner Sue Austgen was absent.
County Building and Planning Director Cory Lytle said he will be in contact with state Department of Child and Family Services to help KW Legacy Ranch obtain the necessary license for a Group Foster Home. He said when the ranch was first permitted in 2012, the state did not have a specific license for such an operation because of its unique nature. Since then, he said, one has been created, but the licensing process is not yet complete, which he will follow up on.
Operated by Yancy Whipple and Luke Hatch, the ranch has a state business license to operate as a Family Focused Adolescent program using a working cattle ranch as a therapeutic family tool, providing treatment for up to 16 to 20 adolescents from ages 13 to 17, but has not obtained the other license from the state because it was their belief it was not needed. .
Most of the people at the nearly three-hour public meeting spoke in support of having the ranch located where it is, a 5.8-acre facility, in the former Mark Wright home, and adjacent to the nearly 100-acre ranch which has been owned by the Hatch family for nearly a century.
However, some of those who live in the general vicinity of the facility said they were not in favor of having it located there. Some said they had safety concerns about the adolescents who were staying there, saying the program was a good one, “but in the wrong location, and too close to private housing.”
Another person voiced concerns that the ranch and the program it offers needs to be closer to a network of support, such as police and medical emergency services.
In the past, the ranch has had to deal with instances of two runaways, one of whom was hit by a car after getting out onto Highway 318, and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries, and another who was found at Windmill Ridge near Alamo. The most unfortunate case was a student at the facility who died of bronchial pneumonia before emergency medical personnel could arrive, prompting the comment, “it’s a good program in the wrong place.”
Others said they had concerns that if students were able to run away from the ranch, which is not fenced in, locals will feel “unsafe and have to lock our cars and doors, and firearm cabinets.” A few expressed concern of what they thought might be kids sneaking around at night and what harm might come to them, and present security measures were not sufficient.
Mike Strong, principal of Pahranagat Valley High, who helps oversee the student’s ongoing schoolwork, said it is unfortunate that occasionally bad things do happen, but he supported continuing the work of the ranch.
Hatch, a 1995 graduate of Pahranagat Valley High School, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker from the University of Utah, licensed in both Utah and Nevada, and Whipple, a 1996 graduate of PVHS, earned his MBA also at the University of Utah.
Rocky Hatch said the facility is not intended to be a lockdown facility, rather like a family setting on a working cattle ranch. “It is a program to save kids,” he said, with the kids not the kind that need to be put in prison jump suits.
Whipple said the purpose of the ranch is to be a treatment center for adolescents who have made some poor decisions in the past, help them get back on track, improve their lives, help them gain some motivation and work ethic, self esteem, and be able to go back to their families. The program also works with the families.
“These are not adjudicated kids from the courts, not placed by judges,” Whipple said. “It’s not a detention center, they come to us for help or we get referrals from other agencies, even from those who were once students here themselves.”
Most of the students come from any number of backgrounds, Whipple noted, “Just not getting along at home, obeying family rules, acting out in school, maybe starting to experiment with controlled substances and alcohol, becoming promiscuous, failing in school, dealing with depression, anxiety, etc. All needing a little bit of time to get some help.”
At the public meeting, both Whipple and Hatch said the people who have been complaining about the facility are not as fully informed as they need to be and issued a public invitation, “for all to come and visit, be given a tour by some of the students themselves, ask any question you want.”
Students are thoroughly screened and interviewed along the with the parents in the decision making process of whether the student should come to KW Legacy Ranch. A doctor’s medical release must also be obtained, if necessary, and if the student is on certain medication, those will be continued by trained personnel at the ranch, as well as a contracted nurse who makes regular visits.
Whipple said, “We get the kids before they get to the point where they might be taken by the courts, before they have progressed to a point where they might have to be sent to facilities such as Spring Mountain on Mt. Charleston in Las Vegas, or the Caliente Youth Center.”
As one person said, “It’s a way to make a positive impact on them for the rest of their lives.”
Whipple said, “Over time, being here helps the kids change their frame of mind.”
Both Whipple and Hatch said the families of the kids are welcome to visit and see what progress is being made. As a licensed clinical therapist, Hatch schedules weekly sessions with the student and/or the family, either by phone or in person. “We have families come in nearly every weekend, often for therapy sessions, or just to visit and see what we are about,” he said.
KW Legacy Ranch is seeking to be granted status as a Group Foster home, but the Nevada Department of Child and Family Services requires at least 16 students for that classification, and Legacy is dealing with 13 at present.
The students perform a variety of ranch related duties, milking cows, gathering eggs, feeding and watering the livestock, cleaning the pens and corrals, planting and tending a garden to grow some of their own vegetables, as well as household duties. The housing is done in a dormitory style setting, with private rooms for girls when they are attending.
Whipple said the students and the onsite staff do the cooking of the meals, with a menu approved by a licensed nutritionist.
Students do continue with their high school core class work, using a nationwide online program, as well as being able to earn additional work-based Ag-Science credits approved by Pahranagat Valley High School and the Lincoln County School District.
In granting the permit, Planning Commission members also asked the ranch make a few other modifications for outside lighting and signage, and in six months show the Commission what changes have been made.