The purpose of Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes is to provide the opportunity for a secure future for some of Georgia’s children who are most in need by giving them LOVE, SUPPORT and OPPORTUNITY. The homes are for good children who need a good home because they are innocent victims of neglect, abuse or lack of opportunity. The following are stories from children growing up in Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes.
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” says the Lord.
Found in Jeremiah 29:11 of the Bible, these words of inspiration are those that Jose Castanon holds dear to his heart; words that he says he lives by. “God has a plan and I can see how His plan has worked out through my whole life. Although most of my childhood was rocky as I grew up in and out of foster care, desiring a bond with parents that I was never able to build, longing for their involvement and a relationship that I never found; I can still see how everything worked out. No circumstance was too difficult or wound too deep for the healing power of Jesus Christ,” said Jose.
From the age of nine when Jose asked Jesus into his heart until the present day, this profound gentleman still gives God the glory. He contributes much of his spiritual education to the time he spent in the church while living at the Georgia Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch. At the age of eleven, Jose was introduced to the place he now refers to as “home”. He, along with his two brothers, became residents at the Boys Ranch in 2004 and remained there until they each graduated from Lowndes County High School. Jose graduated in 2012 and then headed off to South Georgia State College pursuing a psychology degree. His passion for and dedication to running cross country landed him a scholarship to Truett McConnell University. There, Coach Holland took him under his wing and Jose says he has a stronger bond because of it. “Coach wants us to build stronger relationships with our teammates, so we all room together. After two years of being together, we probably have a stronger bond than any team in the nation. All the sports at Truett McConnell are like that. Everybody knows everybody… and there is always someone to greet you with a smile. It brightens your day.”
“God’s plan certainly has a purpose. Growing up as a foster child and then in a youth home, I know first hand what that life is like. I now want to be able to give back and help others. I developed lasting relationships at the Boys Ranch. Cherished relationships. Although the hardest part for me when I first moved there was opening up, I was able to develop the characteristic of becoming a leader. I owe that to them. The Boys Ranch made me ‘get active’. They pushed me, enabled me to grow and ultimately they are the reason I was awarded my sports scholarship, the reason I have a voice in life, and a large influence in my relationship with Christ,” said Jose.
With the utmost gratitude, Jose went on to share that he still feels the love and support from the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes and its members. He said to this day, he still has supporters that keep in contact with him to encourage and drive him. “They drive me to a new level just by staying connected,” he said. Upon graduation in May 2017, Jose plans to pursue Special Ops in the Air Force or world-wide social work. He explained that he has an intense passion to help others because of all that has been done for him. Jose summed it up best with this:
“I am living proof that even if the
stakes are stacked against you,
God has a way. He doesn’t call the
equipped; He equips the called.“
“And so it went on for years and years”… moving from location to location, house to house, parent to grandparent, and usually after the DFCS case worker had just completed one of their many inspections. Of course, prior to that inspection was a dash of meticulous cleaning the hour before they arrived…and then shortly there after was the next phase of the routine, when the family packed whatever would fit in their mother’s tiny sedan trunk and head to another town.
Meet Maranda. A senior at Georgia Southern University, she now reflects back on a life of obstacles, and her own words, can “be content” because it all worked together to get her where she is today. Maranda is a former resident of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes. The story line of her life has been one with ups and downs, but she shares her happy ending.
At the age of nine and in the fourth grade, skipping town in the middle of the night usually without any explanation and more times than she could count, it all came to head after a two month “layover” in Savannah, Ga. Maranda’s mother dropped her and her siblings off with their grandfather advising them that she was going to look for an apartment to rent…but she never returned. After being picked up by a local police officer while playing unattended at a local school track, the four children were placed in a group home (the first of many). Their mother had been “hospitalized” for drug abuse. Of course in the mind of a nine year old, the extent and severity of that problem was unclear, so Maranda became fixated on reuniting with her mother.
Finally after two and a half years of getting “sober”, her mother was well enough to regain custody of Maranda and her siblings. However, she soon relapsed and the children were once again in the care of the state.
“I felt bad for her the first time she relapsed. But then I became old enough to know what she was doing when she made a habit of it. We watched her walk out the door with the little bit of money we had saved up from our first jobs to get her next fix. So it was easy to lose respect for her… and then she dropped the charade of being sorry for her actions,” shared Maranda.
That didn’t stop the “charade” though. Once threats from DFCS came alive again, they embarked on yet another middle of the night drop off …from one stop to the next: first her grandmother, then her aunt, whom they had only met twice. After a few weeks of living with their aunt, Maranda’s mother returned to pick them up and the children refused to leave with her. At this point, they had all been enrolled in a new school and found a glimpse of stability, a glimpse of a “norm”.
“My mother left and we were happy, at least for a little while. Then our aunt became cold and resentful because we were three extra mouths to feed and three additional bodies to pay for,” says Maranda. “The brewing resentment then escalated into verbal abuse towards the three youngsters to the point they ‘begged to be placed back in a group home’.”
That rocked on for three years and Maranda shares that as she looks back, she understands the “stress extra mouths could add” and is thankful for everything her aunt did for them, but for a long time she and her siblings were plagued with fear.
The unpleasant environment became so emotionally obvious that one of Maranda’s high school teachers offered to take her in. She and her siblings moved in and lived in their home for “one beautiful summer…the best summer of my life.”
At the end of that summer the children were introduced to the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Home for the first time. Although very apprehensive, Maranda found she was very grateful that her teacher had taken them in and then made the arrangements for her and her brother to join Herrington Homestead.
“Despite my anxiety at first, I realized this was the best opportunity I have EVER been presented with. Georgia Sheriffs and Herrington Homestead gave me stability… along with the means of securing a future for myself. Not once in the five years that I’ve been in the care of the youth home, did their belief in me waver. I am beyond grateful for the tremendous blessing that Herrington Homestead has been to me!” exclaimed Maranda.
Maranda says it best when she summarizes the chapters of her life’s story and writes her own happy ending: “The past can be acknowledged, but it doesn’t have to be in the fore front. Not once, since joining my family at Herrington Homestead, have I felt like I couldn’t do anything, simply because of their support. I’m living in the present and am at ease with my past. I’m grateful and proud to be able to say I have completed high school and am now about to earn my B. A. from GSU. I am so happy with the way things have turned out…”
Dr. Jones’ journey began when he joined the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes at the Boys Ranch in Hahira, at the young age of 12. Although (in his words), most would think that was a sad thing and some may even feel sorry for him because he lacked something or missed out on what seemed to be the ‘norm’, but he was quick to say that because of his experience at the youth home, he was given more than the norm. He reminisced and said some of his friends were even jealous of him and all that he was given at the Ranch. As he began to explain, his voice took on a whole new tone — a tone of gratitude and excitement. He went on to share that at the Boys Ranch, he had house parents (like most “normal” families), but he also had a campus full of God-parents… as well as a whole state of people working on his behalf.
“It was like the Boys Ranch just handed us endless opportunities and education on a platter and said ‘Be what you want to be; the sky is the limit.’ They gave us life chances, a home, family, and all that goes with it…plus the encouragement to always say ‘Go and make your dreams come true,’” said Jones.
“How could you not want to make something of yourself when you were given nothing but open doors and educational funds to make it happen? Without a doubt, I owe everything, I mean everything to the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes. They instilled the basics and then went on to offer more. I learned how to be civil, you know — manners; I learned work ethics, through chores — and I was taught wholesome values with a foundation in religion. They’re the very reason I am who I am and I can’t say enough about how much I owe them and how thankful I am for them,” emphasized Jones.
After graduating from high school, Jones went to Valdosta State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in premed. It was only after he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer twice during his undergrad years, that he decided to walk away from pre-law and go into the medical field. He battled and won the fight with the nasty disease and went on to Mercer University School of Medicine to graduate in 2009 with a Doctorate in Medicine (MD).
His goal was to stay in Georgia and practice in family medicine, but he became fascinated by surgery. His first surgical internship took him to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania where he spent most of the brutal internship sometimes working 30 straight hours with very little or no sleep, and had little life outside the hospital. This not only took a toll on his family life and marriage, but it also affected his health. He began to experience some neurological problems, so he decided to change his medical direction from surgery — which was so demanding — to anesthesiology. He felt it would be more conducive to a healthy life with a family so he pursued a job opportunity in Missouri. Even after his work hours became more regulated, he was still experiencing some neurological issues and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
“It was the perfect storm of stress. My health was being challenged again, my personal life was in turmoil, and I really didn’t think I had found my niche in anesthesiology. However, God began to open some new doors for me once again just like He has always done. It’s like the cancer; I am thankful for my cancer because if I had not been diagnosed, I would have never found my way into medicine; I would have followed through with becoming an attorney and I would have been outside of my calling, but God opened up those doors and everything worked out just right,” said Jones.
With the latest diagnosis of MS, Jones began to look around and pursue some of those newly opened doors and found himself in a correctional institute working as a General Practice Physician. What started out as a temporary, one month position, turned into three years and something he really enjoys.
“Although I am the youngest doctor in the corrections industry, I feel that I am where I should be, at least for right now. I feel a sense of ‘giving back’ in some way… for the goodness of mankind, you know. I can offer theses guys (prisoners) guidance and just show them that things can change. I think about those who never had a second chance like me; people who didn’t have a chance to be a part of a Boys Ranch or youth home like I did, and have opportunities and instruction,” he kindly proclaimed.
“I want to be able to come back to Georgia and do the same; and I will! I gave people in Georgia my word, and that still means something to me. I will be back as soon as the opportunity arises!”
He went on to share that the Boys Ranch inspired him and gave him the confidence to achieve anything.
“One of my favorite quotes is by Amelia Earhart and it goes hand in hand with what I was always taught: ‘The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity,’” passionately stated Jones.
From overcoming childhood setbacks to two rounds of cancer, multiple sclerosis, and the long journey to the stars and back for his career, it is safe to say that Dr. Jones has made the decision to act, and follow through. He is a success on an array of levels. Dr. Paul Jones is a man that many look up to, inside and out. Just his passion and drive in life is inspiring let alone his success and accomplishments. Thank You Paul for making us all very proud!
Have you ever spoken to someone who had so much depth to their soul that a one minute conversation left you feeling hungry for more? Had an intrigued feeling that made you want to talk longer and ask more questions, simply because that person has so much “life”to share. Well I can tell you, Anthony McCastle is one of those people. After just a few moments of conversation with him, you will find that this man has substance: he is salt of the earth.
From “tragedy to triumph”is the story behind this Hahira, Georgia native. At the young age of 13, a young man by the name of Anthony McCastle faced the unimaginable heart-wrenching death of both parents, due to drug abuse, and then found himself along with his two brothers, in an unfamiliar environment and care of people he had never met. After experiencing an array of obstacles, it’s safe to say that landing in the arms of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch was just the beginning.
Although McCastle’s adolescent years started off rocky, he quickly became an over achiever. From his initial success in middle school academics and athletics, he went on to find victory in all that he became a part of. From the star player of the Lowndes High Football team, to a Valdosta State University graduate, on to become an officer in the United States Army, McCastle never slowed down. He has excelled in every aspect of his life, from an emotional to a professional standpoint.
When asked what he attributes his success to, he will quickly tell you: family. Once more, his family is not the stereotypical family. His family is huge….as in the campus and people of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch. He titles Beth Tillman, former Director of Child Care at the Ranch, his surrogate mother (a role she takes great price in). He said long after he graduated high school, Beth stayed in touch with him as he navigated through life outside the boundaries of Hahira, as any mother would. She was a large part of how he ended up back in the little south Georgia town.
That’s right. McCastle conquered the odds, traveled the world, achieved one accomplishment after another, and at the end of the day, came back home. After his enlisted term came to a close with the military in August of 2014, the opportunity came available for a house parent position at the Boys Ranch. Although he never had any inclination that he would finish out a tour of duty with the army and then decide to be a “home body”for the next season of his life, he was quick to say that his greatest accomplishment hasn’t been professional; it’s the role he now plays as a husband and a father. During his volunteering days between college and enlisting, McCastle came back and forth to the campus spending time with the residents. He knew there was a draw to the place, feeling compelled to always give back. Even after years of attributing the Boys Ranch as his “saving grace”in life, he never knew he would end up there permanently again. When he married his wife Crystal and had their son, Ashton, and daughter, Zoey, neither had any intentions of later sharing the walls within the Steele Cottage, let alone add two more to the family and home.
“Everything I questioned as a boy makes sense now. I can relate to these two guys (residents of the home) with the things that I had to overcome and the things they will have to overcome. It’s been challenging and we are all adjusting, but we are family. I mean more than my wife and my two kids; the two boys that are under my care now are part of my family. That was the one thing I always remember was so special and made such an impact in my life. My houseparent was never just a houseparent: I didn’t live in a cottage on the campus of a youth facility, I lived with my family in our home. I want to provide that same atmosphere to my guys and my family. Although my wife Crystal is more of a ‘girlie girl, crafty and all, she is finding her niche spending time involved with the girls, but my kids Ashton and Zoey just fit right in. The think they are in one big neighborhood and are loving it.”
It has been a long journey to come back home…but I came back and I have a purpose. We are family here and there’s no place I’d rather be for the holidays than here.
Years ago, my house parents provided me with the opportunity to feel cared for and supported. They embraced me and enabled me to become who I am today and I’ve always wanted to show my appreciation for that in some way. Now I realize there is no more rewarding way to give back to the Ranch, than offering to these guys what was offered to me.
The holidays are always magical, but you don’t know the true magic of Christmas until you know what family is, what love is, what a home is.”said McCastle.
The magic of Christmas is a hug that really matters, a gesture that leaves an imprint, and the love that molds a boy into a man.
Angel Claxton’s story:
“It would be easiest to explain my walk with Christ through a series of miracles. I received my first miracle the minute I was born. At only 2 pounds and 8 ounces, God gave me a second chance at life. I was born into a family with no passion or desire to succeed. As a young child, I had no dreams of becoming a college graduate or even a high school graduate. Being the first in my family to accomplish anything that represented success seemed impossible. I was not originally raised in a Christian home and I only ever heard of Jesus in two instances- when in was used in vain or when someone was drunk. That was it. While I didn’t know much, I believed.
I can remember God in several instances long before we were put in foster care. I had been in trouble for days and I couldn’t remember the last time I had been allowed to eat. I was writing in a journal that my grandparents had gotten me. I literally felt like I was going to starve to death and I remember saying “God if you are really up there, please let me have something to eat.” Immediately after that I heard footsteps down the hallway and my sister snuck in our room with a piece of cornbread and that became my first memory of a miracle. God remained in my life the whole time although during these events, I didn’t recognize it. God was with me through every beating, every moment, everyday. I asked Christ into my heart at a vacation bible school at eight years old-the only time I can remember going to church as a young child. I said my prayer but that was that just that. I didn’t know what to do with it.
Another miracle came shortly after I turned 10 years old, my siblings and I entered the foster care system. While it was one of the best things that ever happened in my life, it didn’t always feel that way. We went through two failed adoptions before my sister and I were taken to Cherokee Estate. By the time I came to Cherokee Estate, I had given up…on everything. I had no hope at finding a home, being loved and finding a family was the last thing on my mind. Everything I said or thought was negative.
Cherokee became my second chance at life and a fresh start. It was the first place I had ever been in where someone took care of me and I owed nothing in return, people who loved me for me…in every flaw and every weakness. I was where I needed to be. The best place for me, a place that I felt safe and right at home. Most of my most cherished memories can be linked back to Cherokee Estate. Wearing makeup for the first time, getting dressed for prom, learning to drive, graduating both high school and college- all memories I will forever share with Cherokee Estate.
It was then that I began to see God’s plan and to learn the lessons that he wanted to teach me. One of the hardest became forgiveness. I realized after so many years that I had never forgiven my birth mother. It was a lesson that took almost five years. My bitterness and anger was holding me back. It has been through God’s grace and mercy that I have became who I am today. I have been blessed with so much and no matter what I went through if God can be so merciful to me to change my entire life from a life of misery to a life of victory…then I could show the woman who gave me life that same grace and mercy to God so graciously gave to me.
I now work full time for youth homes and hope that I love my kids in the same way that I was loved. I have gained so much…including the woman I chose to be my mother. Not the woman who gave me life, but a woman who gave me much more. A woman with patience and strength that is impossible to measure. A woman who gives her whole heart in everything she does and looks fabulous doing it. A woman who showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. A woman I look up to everyday and can only hope to become half of the woman she is.
I am still learning everyday. God teaches me and I have to remind myself that my plan is not always His plan for me but His plan is simple. It is not enough to hold my ticket to heaven- I realized that the way I spend my time, money, passion and resources, matter and they are to be used for one purpose- to extend the Kingdom of God. That is my goal. To show others grace and mercy that was given to me.
Cherokee has not just changed my life. They have given me a life I thought I would never have I will never be able to adequately show my gratitude to Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes, their loving staff, and their loyal supporters for all they have done for me. I will always be proud of the young lady I have become through the love and support of such a wonderful organization.
I am here to tell you that I no longer believe in chances but in a carefully crafted plan from my Heavenly Father. Every part of my life has been planned and prepared perfectly for me. For that, I am thankful and I am blessed.”
The hundreds of children who have been cared for at our Youth Homes have similar stories. Experiences shared by these children, prior to living in Youth Homes, are hard to imagine for people who grew up in traditional home environments.
Our programs and caring staff nurture these children with love, encourage them with support, and strengthen them with opportunity.
Your donations to Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes help these children transform obstacles and difficulties from the past into achievements and successes for the future. Every gift makes a big difference. Please make a contribution today!