Chestnut Mountain Ranch (CMR) is located just 6 miles south of Morgantown on 225 beautiful acres.
The Ranch is a Christ-centered safe haven for boys and families in crisis – a place for family restoration where boys can enjoy school again and all can experience positive family values.
Recently, Steve Finn, Director and Founder of CMR, spoke of the Ranch’s success, past struggles and how the community can continue to support its mission.
Stroll Cheat Lake: For those who don’t know what Chestnut Mountain Ranch is, what are you all about?
Steve Finn: Chestnut Mountain Ranch is a Christ-centered school and home for boys who are in need of hope and healing. Our goal is to partner with their families and other providers in the community to get these children back to a healthy home environment.
Stroll Cheat Lake: What are some of the issues you deal with when a boy arrives on your campus?
Steve Finn: For a number of the children that come to us, school has been a failing part of their lives. A lot of the children are two to three grade levels behind. They are dealing with anger issues, stealing, lying, deception and social issues. But, we know that what is on display with these children goes much deeper than that – it’s often generational. So, we know if we are going to get this train back on the track, we have to dig deep and it’s going to take time. Because it’s not just the child’s issues; it’s a generational focus that we’re going after.
Stroll Cheat Lake: When these boys eventually leave your care, what do you hope is the biggest thing they take from their time here?
Steve Finn: Historically, if you took a child that was at risk that had been through the foster system, and had been failing two or three grade levels – if you compile all those stats, they would be in the judicial system for most of their life. Not only are we striving to break that statistic, but we are striving to get these children back on track with a focused purpose in life. We believe that every child has a God-given gift. We believe that for every child – somewhere within the chaos and the storm – there is a gift, there’s a purpose; something they can hang on to and grow from. It might be artistic skills; it might be mechanical skills; they might be teachers one day; they might be police officers; you never know. We’re about breaking that generational curse and helping these children prepare for a new purpose and new track.
Stroll Cheat Lake: What makes Chestnut Mountain Ranch successful; why does it work?
Steve Finn: The program relies, first and foremost, on God for our provision and our protection. The children that come to us are prayed in; we’ve got an excellent team. We’ve got a nationally accredited school, we have counselors and we have the people who are operating businesses in town – like the Quick Lube and Thrift Store – that are generating income to support this growing ministry. We have been building debt free in one of the poorest states in the country for 17 years now. There’s a miracle story unfolding here; I firmly believe that from the very beginning, we’ve been relying on God for our provision and as soon as we take our eyes off of that, we are going to lose. We have a staff here that are staying in step with one another; we’re keeping our eyes focused on the things that are pleasing to God and we keep our focus on the children. If we continue to use that as our playbook, we can’t go wrong.
Stroll Cheat Lake: Why are you doing this; why is this ministry so important to you?
Steve Finn: I grew up as a ranch kid. My father passed away when I was young, so my teen years were a little bumpy. I moved out of the house when I was 17; finished high school on my own. God got a hold of my heart when I was 20 years old. I got into law enforcement, living in Atlanta, and spent the next 12 years as a police officer in metro Atlanta. I absolutely loved what I did, I had the opportunity to serve on the streets in a unique fashion, working in a special unit. I often worked with the gangs; we often worked in high crime and drug areas. I saw a lot of children that were making very poor decisions that were changing the course of life or ending it. I realized early on that the common denominator with all these kids was there wasn’t a family structure, there wasn’t a father figure and there was rarely a mother figure in their lives. They were living with friends or relatives and the party didn’t last very long.
My wife and I started what-iffing the situation; we had no idea what we were doing. What do you do when you get a stirring in your spirit? We prayed about it. We began to look at things in a different light. What are the rest of our days going to look like, what are we going to do with the rest remainder of our time? The journey that we went on led us to West Virginia. Why West Virginia? My wife Dawn and I agreed to go to the state with the highest need. We looked at the statistics, we met with people on the front line of the childcare industry and we started to learn what the landscape was like. We learned immediately that the need here was phenomenal and that a program like Chestnut Mountain Ranch would make a difference. We were also cautioned; how are you going to do this and sustain this in a state with one of the lowest income rates per capita in the country? But what did I know? I’m a cop from Atlanta; I didn’t have the answers. So I said let's give this thing twelve months, if God is in it, He’s in it. If He’s not, He’s not. My wife and I loaded up the Uhaul, we drove off a cliff and went after it in 2005. In 2006, a year later, we were getting ready to head back to Atlanta – we were broke, we couldn’t find land and that’s when everything broke open. We found this property right outside of Morgantown. People were watching us that we didn’t know were watching us and that’s when the gifts started coming in. Nine weeks later, we wrote a check for the property and we were on the map. We went from executing our exit strategy to putting a stake in the ground; so here we are 16 years later from the time we bought the land and what’s happening here is a miracle.
Stroll Cheat Lake: What can people do to help you instill hope and purpose in these boys?
Steve Finn: We have dozens of powerful success stories over the years. Children that have literally been pulled out of extreme situations and sad situations now have a renewed focus on life. They’ve discovered hope, they’ve discovered what it means to have a purpose and they’ve discovered that they do have skills and that they can move forward. We have children that are now with the FBI, or are now police officers – children that have gone to college and graduated successfully. We have quite a few in the military. Now some of these children that we raised here at Chestnut Mountain Ranch are old enough to have children of their own and what we are seeing is that they are raising their children the way that they were raised here. The veil has been lifted and they want to break that cycle that got them here in the first place.
We got to this point through community help. We do not take any state or federal money. We have prayed every dollar in. What you see here – every pew in this chapel and every stone on the wall has a story behind it. Whether it’s someone that’s getting their oil changed at one of our Quick Lubes or someone turning in furniture or household goods at our Thrift Store that can be turned into cash – that helps us keep the lights turned on. It could also be a monthly gift that comes through; we are seeing that daily bread come for our provision time and time again. We’ve never been bankrolled over the years, but we’ve never gone backward – because of this community. This community has been behind the Chestnut Mountain Ranch, these boys and these success stories I just told you about; that’s what makes this ministry continue. It is not a Steve Finn thing; it is not a Chestnut Mountain Ranch thing; it’s the community thing that is getting behind the lives of these boys and that’s why it is so successful.
Stroll Cheat Lake: Is there a way people in this community can help?
Steve Finn: There are a lot of ways that people can help. We utilize a lot of mission teams to help us keep our construction costs low and to stretch the donor's dollar. Since we’ve started, we’ve been building on about $.60 on the dollar. Cash gifts are huge, but material, in-kind gifts can either help us meet a need at the property or they can be sold at our Thrift Store to generate funds to help us keep going.
Stroll Cheat Lake: Why should people that are in need of a place like this believe and trust in Chestnut Mountain Ranch?
Steve Finn: We could have scaled back a bit on this facility. We wanted to not only build something that was aesthetically beautiful but also speaks to our program, that speaks to the quality of our nationally accredited school, our counseling program and our house parent program. The homes are beautiful. For our single mom or that grandparent pulling onto the property for the first time, they are going to see that we’ve taken the time to put that extra touch into our facilities. It is my hope that they will feel at ease and feel more comfortable leaving their child with us and partnering with us to renew family unification.
Stroll Cheat Lake would like to thank Mike Lee, owner of Freedom Kia of Morgantown, for making this campaign possible. Also, thank you to Dylan Sheldon and Abbie Backenstoe for providing interview and video support.