Thumbs up for Parks Youth Ranch
By Elsa Maxey
The vote for the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Youth Ranch carried, but there was one hold out. Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison voted against the agreement between Fort Bend County and the Parks Youth Ranch last week. The project seeks $36,410 from HUD (Housing and Urban Development) for an emergency shelter grant for operating the youth shelter for homeless and at-risk youth, and it was on a regular meeting agenda for authorization from the County Judge Bob Hebert to sign documents about the agreement.
After having heard Linda Schultz, executive director of the non-profit organization and other youth program affiliated speakers address the court, Commissioner Morrison held on to his position voiced last month. He said the marketing materials from homeless shelter indicated the facility located in Fairchilds would be specifically for Fort Bend County County youth. “It looks like only 30 percent (of the participants) were from Fort Bend, and perhaps only 30 percent of funding should be from Fort Bend,” he said.
Judge Bob Hebert, who serves on the facility’s advisory board, was asked by Denis LaRoche to recuse himself from voting due to bias. LaRoche, whose property neighbors the youth ranch and is opposed the project, addressed commissioners during the public comment portion of the meeting. He was one of four who spoke to commissioners court about concerns. LaRoche said he had dealings with the youth park ranch. Homeless kids were going beyond the facilities grounds even to the point of running away from the facility, he said. He also cited examples of a 9:30 p.m. knock on his door from a 12 year old, who told him she was scared of the facility and wanted to leave, of how a neighbor found a child living in his barn on a haystack for a week, and also of an incident where a girl went to a community resident’s door one late afternoon saying she needed to use the phone and was taken to the Needville police.
Overall concerns from those addressing commissioners focused on the residence of the youths served, their supervision, education, and the need for a fence, succinctly summarized by Commissioner James Patterson. Commissioner Patterson said this was the second time the issue of a fence had come up and suggested that of the many program volunteers, “there has to be somebody that can build a fence as a donation, maybe an Eagle Scout.” School dropouts, expected to be part of the program due to the short term, 90-day length of stay at the facility, can adversely impact the Needville school district’s rating. Patterson called this a clerical issue that needs attention, and also suggested investigation in charter school programs. He said that voting against the project is the opposite “of what we need to do and we would like to see something positive happen to make a difference for Needville.”
Morrison specifically said he was not against serving kids from Fort Bend County. But, out-of-county kids was an issue for him, especially due to how a small school district, meaning Needville, takes pride with a great rating only to get knocked downed, he said referring to the facility participants dropping out of school upon leaving the program. “We will be glad to sit down and try to get that worked out for 100 percent service to Fort Bend County kids,” he said referring to an issue relating to transporting students.
Schulz said no Fort Bend County kids have been turned away from the shelter noting that 15 of the 52 youth served since last March are from Fort Bend. The 20-bed shelter facility on eight acres was opened almost a year ago and last month, it dedicated a new recreational center for use by the 13-17 year olds it serves. Schulz said that before the facility opened, Fort Bend County homeless kids were served by facilities outside the area. She also said that only four participants served to date were from outside the greater Houston area.
Referrals for the program providing emergency shelter, counseling and life changing services to at-risk and homeless youth come from Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation, Child Protective Services and the community. The less than $37,000 federal grant funds are intended to support the charitable work of the organization. The grant funds represent only two federal emergency shelter grants in Fort Bend County – one of the youth park and one for the Fort Bend Women’s Center.
“No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child,” said Judge Hebert quoting President Abe Lincoln before voting in favor of the project, “and I think the same can be said for communities, and I think Fort Bend County is a very giving community, and I will be pleased to vote for this.”