REGINA — Social worker Geoff Pawson in 1966 was working at the Regina Boys School, a youth custodial facility now known as the Paul Dojack Youth Centre. It used a socially acceptable punitive approach for young offenders, but Pawson decided there was a better way, a nurturing way, to help young offenders who frequently came from troubled homes.
He and his wife, Barb, talked to Cliff Ehrle, a Regina hotelier who owned a ranch east of Regina who wanted to retire. Ehrle agreed to carry the mortgage if Pawson could come up with $1,000. The banks were no help, so the Pawson home was mortgaged and Ranch Ehrlo was born.
It began with four boys; within two weeks there were 12, and the facility soon began accepting girls as well. Fifty years later, Ranch Ehrlo has more than 800 staff operating 40 residential programs in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and a rural facility in the RM of Buckland northwest of Prince Albert. One hundred and seventy-five youth are in its care, plus an additional 75 in a Developmental Delay program.
“We also have three family care programs,” said CEO and president Andrea Brittin in an interview with the PM. “They provide intensive programs so families can provide safe care.”
Cancer claimed Pawson in 2012.
The 50th anniversary was celebrated at a gala fund-raising banquet Sept. 29 at the Queensbury Centre, all funds going to the Sports Venture program. Former Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Gordon Barnhart was master of ceremonies for the evening, which featured federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Saskatchewan Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor and chair of the Child Welfare League of Canada Andy Koster, all bringing greetings and lauding the success of Ranch Ehrlo.
“Canada is a better place because of the Ranch,” said Koster.
“The Ranch has given them hope for their future,” said Goodale of the Ranches’ youth.
The Sports Venture program loans donated equipment free of charge to other organizations for a variety of recreational activities. There is also a counselling service which the public can access, and affordable housing is provided in several locations throughout Regina. The Ranch also operates five early learning centres (day cares) in Regina. Its current budget is about $65 million. Almost all services operate on a fee-for-service basis, including referrals from the Ministry of Social Services. It accepts referrals from across Canada.
Guest speaker Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle, shared stories of her eccentric parents and her unusual upbringing. “Hope and dreams about the future are the best gifts you can give a child,” said Walls, referring to her own upbringing as well as the Ranch activities.