SoloMoms! Talk
March 31, 2022

Rockside Ranch: A Place of Restoration for Young Men w/Craig Thompson

Rockside Ranch: A Place of Restoration for Young Men w/Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson is the host of Restoration Matters podcast. He's also the CEO of Rockside Ranch with a mission to "help young men overcome crisis and thrive in work and life".

In this interview, Craig talks about how his program helps young men in crisis to learn new skills, focus on their mental health, and engage with strangers to form their own community.

Craig explains how boys after graduating high school can lose the support they had when they were younger. This can cause them to fall into habits that don't benefit them.

Rockside Ranch incorporates farming in a program that runs for 8 months and helps these young men to regain a sense of purpose.

Find out more about the program at www.rocksideranch.org | IG: @rocksideranch

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Craig Thompson [00:00:00] J. Rosemarie: I'm speaking with Craig Thompson. he's the host of the podcast Restoration Matters and the Executive Director of Rockside Ranch. Welcome Craig. [00:00:13] Craig Thompson: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. [00:00:15] J. Rosemarie: yes. so before we talk about Rockside ranch and, the work that you do, I always like to, you know, get a little bit of a warmup by asking you to introduce yourself. [00:00:26] So can you tell us who Craig Thompson is? [00:00:29] Craig Thompson: Sure. Yeah. So, My name is Craig. I live in a really small town, very far Northern California called Aetna, and live here with my wife, Jen, and we have three kids. And, so we are, we live on a ranch. That's about a hundred acres and which may seem big, but what. [00:00:50] We are, that's a pretty small ranch. There, there are a lot of big ranches around us. And so we raise animals on the, on the farm here. And, the, the primary [00:01:00] purpose of the farm, the ranch is to have a place for young men who are in some kind of a crisis come and to learn job skills and life skills. [00:01:10] And so The, the thing that, you know, really prompted us to come and and, and live, you know, in this way was just was, was wanting to have that kind of a ministry where we're all living on the same property, where we're all working on the same projects and just, you know, being in that kind of a close community. [00:01:31] So it's, it's hard to kind of separate. Our own personal life from the ranch, because it's all really intertwined. [00:01:38] J. Rosemarie: Right. Okay. So, you're a rancher who runs a program for, at-risk youth, so to speak. [00:01:49] Craig Thompson: Yeah. Yeah. [00:01:49] J. Rosemarie: Okay. All right. So and, how did you get into that? What made you want to reach out to youth in crisis? [00:01:58] Craig Thompson: Yeah. Well, there's.[00:02:00] There's a lot of particularly young men, 18 to 24, 25, somewhere in their mid-twenties who are really living in crisis. And there's I spent the first few years after college working in camp ministry and so was working for summer camps. You know, you S you would serve these kids during the week of summer camp. [00:02:24] And, and then they would go and graduate from high school and you sometimes stay in contact sometimes wouldn't, but there was just a need for that next phase. What, happens when things go wrong in the next phase of life after high school? Before there's, there's been some really, really, life-altering decisions that have been made, you know, but say a guy is struggling with some kind of an addiction or some kind of a. [00:02:53] A lifestyle habit, like, you know, even just playing too many video games and, and, not having a really strong [00:03:00] social network or friend network that they are relying on. we're trying to find a way to serve that population, that group of guys, because there's, there's just a lot of guys who are, who really struggle in that time of. [00:03:13] J. Rosemarie: Okay. Yeah, I imagine that, you're not quite an adult, but you're a man and you may not have the support you need or you've lost the support you had. Yeah. I can see. I can leave a young man, like flailing in the wind and it could turn into stuff that they wouldn't normally do if they had the support. [00:03:36] So, [00:03:37] Craig Thompson: yeah, [00:03:37] J. Rosemarie: I think the program sounds very good. It sounds like it's, it could be life altering for them. Yeah. Oh, all right. And, and how, how do you help these young men? Like what do you do for. [00:03:54] Yeah. Well, so the guys come to the ranch from all different kinds of backgrounds and all different,[00:04:00] all different reasons or motivations for coming to the ranch. [00:04:03] And so the, the biggest thing that almost all the students who are here will point to is the community here. So it's just the relationships with the staff and with the students. That is one of the biggest just the biggest, biggest things that we find. You know, adds value to the student's experience while they're here. [00:04:25] Craig Thompson: that's not only just the ranch staff, but also the broader community of, of Scott Valley, where we live. And, so I think the connection with other people is. Is just huge, healthy relationships, healthy connections. In addition to that though from day one, the guys jump into a really structured environment. [00:04:46] So the structure of their overall day is that they get up sometime in the six o'clock hour. We do a short devotion go out to feed animals and do chores come back in for breakfast. Then we do a Bible study after Bible study, [00:05:00] we go out for a farm project. Where there, you know, again, this outside working with their hands and doing something meaningful and productive, they come back in for lunch. [00:05:09] We do a two-hour class in the afternoon, and then they go back out for chores. And then we have dinner and evening activities. That's usually it'll be more social and community-based, so it's a really structured program and their days Monday through Friday are follow that schedule. Saturday's our weekend recreation opportunities that we go and we'll do a hike or go fishing or backpacking or sledding, depending on the time of year Sundays, we go to church, come back and have a more restful afternoon. [00:05:42] And so it's just building those life patterns, habits, and routines, understanding and experiencing. Just the benefits of getting a good night's sleep, eating three meals a day. Many of the guys that, that come to the ranch here are not [00:06:00] sleeping very well at all when they arrive and they're not eating very well at all, and they're not moving a whole lot in their, in their life. [00:06:07] And so just doing those basic things, just. Brings their whole being back, back to life a little bit. [00:06:15] J. Rosemarie: Yeah. [00:06:15] Yeah. It sounds like, you know, they, they are the point where the structure and the community and having a goal and a purpose. It really provides a well-rounded, community for them. No drugs are required. [00:06:33] Craig Thompson: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And the three things that we really focus on while they're here are sobriety and sobriety, you know, from substance or alcohol or tobacco, but also sobriety, you know, in the sense of like, if there is a technology addiction, a cell phone addiction you know, a video game addiction, anything really just kind of getting separation from. [00:06:56] So that's number one, sobriety. The second thing is mental health could be [00:07:00] an actual diagnosis, or it could just be some trends that are not good in, in, you know, their mental health. And then the third thing is job and life skills. And so for the eight months that they're here at the ranch every day, they're practicing just a ton of different job skills and life skills that are going to serve them no matter where they go after the ranch. [00:07:23] J. Rosemarie: Hmm. [00:07:24] Okay. That sounds good. And you mentioned mental health. do you provide any kind of, opportunity for therapy given that some of them may be coming from traumatic backgrounds? [00:07:37] Craig Thompson: Yeah, so we do partner with clinicians locally here. And in addition to that, some students come with a, an established team of counselors and therapists. [00:07:46] And so with their Telehealth appointments and other things like that, they can actually keep their, their providers or we can help them to with, with some of the clinicians that we partner with. [00:07:58] J. Rosemarie: Okay. All [00:08:00] right. And I'll ask another question. I kinda have, I raised three sons, so, you know, I, this is kind of close to my heart.[00:08:09] and how, who, how do they get in touch with you? Like how does somebody find out about you? [00:08:14] Craig Thompson: Yeah, well, oftentimes I would say most often it's it's because their mom reaches out. And and says, Hey, I'm really concerned about my son. And, I wonder if you'd be interested in a place like this. So usually it's, it's their mom or somebody in their family you know, a parent grandparent aunt or uncle, somebody like that.[00:08:37] Almost all of the guys and it's a really small program. So we only serve up to eight guys at a time. And so so, you know, we're not. We don't have 30, 40 guys here or anything. And so it's almost every single one of the guys came because somebody in their life who cared about them helped them take that step. [00:08:58] J. Rosemarie: Okay. All right. And what are [00:09:00] the age range again? [00:09:02] Craig Thompson: It's at least 18, so we can't take minors, but we do serve guys who are up into their upper twenties. We're actually opening up another site that would serve guys who are a bit older than that. [00:09:15] J. Rosemarie: Okay. All right. [00:09:17] Sounds like, yeah, it sounds like a very good program that, you know, it's different from the norm, but it could be quite useful. [00:09:28] And, okay. So, and, and, and I, I imagined this you know, there are a plethora of things that they're dealing with, but it's, do you find like there's any kind of trend, like. You know, general consensus on what it is that's wrong. [00:09:48] Craig Thompson: Yeah. Yeah. A lot of times it is this question of purpose and meaning in their life. [00:09:56] So, I mean, I think everybody goes through that at some point. What am I really here [00:10:00] for? What's this life all about? That's a big one. That one combined with the. I think a trend or a growing trend of deemphasizing work in the trades. So farming and, and then the list goes on from electricians, plumbers, mechanics painters, you know, on and on and on. [00:10:20] And on that, that. A lot of guys that come here to the ranch, haven't worked much with their hands and, and worked in, in the trades. And so seeing guys get out and, and work on a trade, I mean, just last week. Put a new roof on the pump house. they've built a fence they've done drywall and installation and all kinds of things just in the last few weeks. [00:10:45] And so exposing guys to these different trade opportunities that not only. Excite a lot of guys because they're doing something productive and, and healthy and good. But in the job market right [00:11:00] now, those jobs are in incredibly high demand and, and people who are going into those careers can make a really good living. [00:11:09] And so a lot of times guys come to us and they say, I just, I don't think I can do anything. With my life where I don't feel like I have. Any skills to offer. And I think a lot of that is because we really deemphasized the trades. And so if a guy, if there's a, you know, a young man who says, I don't either want to go to college or I tried college and it just wasn't a good fit for me. [00:11:35] oftentimes, they can start to think that they'll never have a good job. Hmm. And so just re-establishing that purpose? That means re-establishing that hope that yeah, you can, you don't have to, you know, sit in an office all day long. You can go in and have a job that you really feel good about yourself at the end of the [00:12:00] day. [00:12:00] You've contributed to making somebody else's life a lot better. And you can make a really good living doing that and provide for a family at some point with yourself and all of that, I think really just makes a big difference. Yeah, [00:12:15] J. Rosemarie: I imagined, and I met image learning trades kind of rework their expectation of what work should be like. [00:12:25] Right. Yeah. Okay. That's good. Do you have any success stories you could share? [00:12:31] Craig Thompson: Sure. Yeah. So you know of the guys who come to the ranch and I always tell them this. I said you know, you guys are, you guys are my heroes because they're willing to take a big, big step. that's just a huge challenge.[00:12:47] I always tell the guys that this is the hardest thing that they'll ever do. And when they come to the ranch, they choose to be here. So nobody is forcing them to be there. This isn't a lockdown facility, you know, or [00:13:00] any, anything that, that a guy is, you know, trapped in. So every day that they're here is a day that they've chosen to invest in their future..[00:13:09] Well, that's really encouraging, but they've also given up things that normal, you know, 18 to 25 year old young men have access to like their cell phone or their computer or a car. You know, they give up those things for eight months while they're here at the ranch. And they still have a phone that they can use to talk to family and friends and everything. [00:13:31] It's not, it's not isolated by any means. but they don't have that personal device. That's just ding, ding, ding, all day long. Right. And so, so that really, I think all of those things combined, you know, the fact that they have to give up a lot of stuff to come and the fact that they choose to come really contributes to pretty high success.[00:13:54] So the guys that come to the ranch over 90% of them graduate. And [00:14:00] out of that, we have over 80% of the graduates are employed or in school full-time today right now. And so, within those, you know, statistics are the real life stories of the guys. And so, you know, for instance, We've we have guys who come to us who are wanting to really put a past of, of drug use or of probation or homelessness, or just purposelessness behind them. [00:14:30] And, you know, we've seen in the last, even just in the last year that graduates have gone on to go into farming. one graduate is working in furniture restoration. Other graduates working in, pest control, another who he actually went through the fire academy. Graduated from the fire academy, started as a firefighter. [00:14:55] Decided I don't, I, this is actually not really what I wanted to do, but [00:15:00] because of his, because of all the training that he had done, he was able to get a job in security. And so, he's now doing security. we, we have. I graduate who's at, at Wheaton college. Yeah, or I'm sorry at Moody Bible Institute and another graduate who's in culinary school. [00:15:17] you know, and these are just guys in the last year. And so going back further than that, you know, it's, it's a lot of similar stories of, of just guys who. It's amazing. How, how eight months, which on the one hand seems like an eternity to the guys. On the other hand, it seems like man that's hardly anything. [00:15:37] But that, that eight months of focus, dedication just opens the doors wide to a future opportunity. [00:15:44] J. Rosemarie: Yeah. Yeah. I can imagine. Now, you mentioned that. You're only able to do eight students. I mean, eight students at a time. Is that because of [00:16:00] capacity or is that because of funding [00:16:01] or both? [00:16:02] Craig Thompson: Yeah. It's a little bit of both. [00:16:04] but really, I would say the biggest reason is impact. So, once we get over eight guy, The, the dynamic really changes. with eight guys, we are able to really have a strong relationship with each of the students and we're able to really get to know them well and be a very individualized program that serves each of the individual needs of the students. [00:16:34] If we were to go much beyond. Yeah. You know, we would be, we would be losing a lot of that impact. And so Rockside currently is just one location. but this year we're, we're in the process of opening up two additional locations that would also each serve up to eight students. And so that's really the, as we look to the future, We're looking, not at [00:17:00] growing this site to serve more students, but just replicating on other farms and ranches to serve more students in that. [00:17:07] J. Rosemarie: Hmm. [00:17:09] Yeah, that makes, that makes sense. Absolute sense. You have, you, you're able to be more successful and impact more lives by niching down and they would say numbers wise, at least. All right. So and I love the idea of being in a ranch because yeah. Most of your time outdoors,, you get to associate with nature and a lot of animals. [00:17:35] And I think that's like the, ultimate mental health, therapy. [00:17:43] Craig Thompson: You're exactly right. [00:17:44] J. Rosemarie: Yeah. That's amazing. Okay. That's great stuff. So what is Craig grateful for today? [00:17:51] Craig Thompson: I am. Oh man, that's a great question. I think I am grateful for my family and included in that, you know, I would say [00:18:00] the Rockside family, you know, so yeah, I'm grateful for, for work.

[00:18:05] work that allows for really important relationships. And we're, we're getting some looking out the window here. We're getting some really beautiful January weather of like mid 50 degrees. And so we need the rain in the snow, but a little break from it is also really nice. So I'm thinking, yeah. [00:18:27] J. Rosemarie: Yeah. [00:18:27] Oh yeah, that, that's a good thing. You know, when you're, when you're in the cold, cold, climate it's, you know, any little thing. [00:18:39] Yeah. [00:18:40] Okay. So, you know, I, I was thinking about the fact that you are. Ministering to boys. And I think when we talked before by email, you mentioned that, and actually we talked on the [00:19:00] phone, you mentioned that some of, or maybe all of these boys come from the homes of single mothers and, and whether or not that's, so are not, What because I raised three boys. [00:19:17] And so I'm, I wanted to know if you have one piece of advice for a solo mom who, who is raising boys solo [00:19:26] yeah, [00:19:28] Craig Thompson: yeah, yeah. So, so I wish I knew a percentage of, of how many of the students who came to the ranch, were raised by a solo mom. It's I would say it's probably about half of the guys who are here maybe a little bit more. [00:19:42] and I, but I would say this about almost all of the guys who come to the ranch and that is that their mother is somebody that they just adore. And look up to and cherish. [00:20:00] And it's interesting because oftentimes that gets mapped here, onto the women that we have on staff. and you know, they will, they will listen to my wife, for instance, a lot quicker than they'll listen to me, you know? [00:20:16] And and so I think. you know, for whatever, whatever my opinion is worth. I think that the thing that comes to mind is just to keep loving your boys and your girls obviously. But that, even when it might feel like that relationship isn't valued From everything I've seen on the other end of it. [00:20:42] that relationship is, absolutely core, to who these guys are. And it's really beautiful, you know, they talk about their moms, just like they walk on water most of the time. So it's just, it's just really neat too, to see that legacy.[00:21:00] Just you know, hear about that legacy. And many times we get to meet their moms and they'll come out and visit or come to graduations. [00:21:07] And, and it's, it's really special for us to meet the mom of a student that we now have a relationship with and care deeply about and to put a face to the, to the many, many stories that we hear about the impact that, that, that mom has had. [00:21:25] J. Rosemarie: Yeah. All right. Thank you very much. And you answered the question, you answered my question. [00:21:31] because I figured that, I mean, a lot of times as moms, we always blame ourselves, you know, for, they're not so good actions. And we wonder if we did a good job and you're on the receiving end. What we did, what we poured into them, whatever that was. Right. So you see for eight months, you see those, those young men and see the life, the character that was poured into [00:22:00] them from mom. [00:22:01] Right. And so I wanted to see, to hear your side. Oh, you, you know, not, not to, through any judgment or anything like that, but what was your, you know, your opinion? And, and, and, you know advice you could give to a mom who probably thinking I failed him because he, you know, he's drinking or he's not really, he's not doing what I think he should have been doing. [00:22:28] So that, that, that's a great answer. Thank you. [00:22:32] Craig Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. [00:22:33] J. Rosemarie: Yeah. All right. So, now how do you, how you're here, you're giving us your time and sharing about your program. How can Your audience benefit from you or how can you benefit from our audience, like your program or anything like that? [00:22:56] Craig Thompson: Sure. Yeah. So, I mean, I would say [00:23:00] if there's anything that, that we can do, I mean, that's what our, that's what our desire in our heart is. So. No, we get, we get people frequently who reach out and they're for whatever reason their son or grandson is not interested in the program and that's fine, but how can we support the family who is going through just a really emotionally intense season. [00:23:25] And so that was, that was the primary motivator for starting the podcast. And just to be a resource to try to equip and provide tools. so yeah, if there's, you know, if there's a mom who is gone, man, my 20 something-year-old son or, or 18, 19 year old son is really struggling. feel free to reach out if there's anything that we can do, even just to have a conversation with your son or, try to provide some resources. [00:23:52] If they're interested in coming to the program, you know, there are other many other ways that we can, [00:24:00] we can serve, you know, your listeners for sure. [00:24:03] Okay. And how can they reach it? Like where do they find you? [00:24:07] Yeah, that's a good question. So our website is rocksideranch.org. So honestly, K S I D E dot O R G. [00:24:17] And we're on Instagram, Facebook, at Rockside ranch. And then and then the podcast is also a good place to start. We've got a couple episodes in there that are talking more specifically about the ranch, but most of the podcast episodes, are, are really geared around tools for restoring relationships. [00:24:35] And tools for trying to get out of ruts that it feel impossible to get out of. And so the podcasts, I think you've mentioned it earlier, but the podcast is Restoration Matters and run most of the podcast platforms so you should be able to find it. [00:24:53] J. Rosemarie: Okay. [00:24:54] Great. And I know I'll put the link in the show notes so people can get in touch with you quicker. [00:24:59] [00:25:00] Okay. Yeah. Sure. Craig, thank you very much for coming and talking to us today. Anything else? [00:25:05] Craig Thompson: No, thank you for my, for, for having me and for your time. And I just really appreciate what you're doing and the way that you're serving solo moms out there. [00:25:13] J. Rosemarie: Yes. Thanks Craig. [00:25:15] Craig Thompson: All right.

Craig ThompsonProfile Photo

Craig Thompson

CEO of Rockside Ranch