“We’re trying to do what we can, our little part, one kid at a time.”
That’s the attitude Jerry Hill, founder of the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, reiterated during an open house Saturday commemorating the ranch’s 35th anniversary. And in those three-and-a-half decades, the ranch has taken in more than 1,000 children — some homeless, some victims of abuse, some in mental and emotional crisis.
Monte Gibson was one of those children. Three years ago, he came to the ranch as a resident, fighting drug addiction and being “alone and in the dark,” he said. A year later, he emerged from that battle healthy and joined the staff so he could offer the same assistance he received.
On Saturday, he gave a presentation at the ranch’s open house before dozens of attendees describing both his own personal journey and the amenities the ranch offers to the community.
“The surrounding darkness robbed me of my sight and I became unrecognizable to myself,” he said. “I went through this program and it changed my life.
“This is not just a homeless shelter by any stretch.”
Mr. Hill then took attendees on a tour of the facilities and introduced them to current residents and employees, including Brandon Roberts, who was first a resident and now works for the ranch.
“[Timothy Hill] helped me have faith,” he said. “It helped me save money. It helped me get a job. It taught me how to be independent. It taught me how to be more responsible.
“I wanted to give back.”
In 1972, Timothy Hill was killed at the age of 13 when a truck hit his bicycle. Since his dream was to open a ranch as a sanctuary for troubled boys, his parents, Jerry and Fern, followed through in his honor, using the proceeds of a book Fern wrote to kickstart the operation.
The ranch is still growing, too. In the last few years, Mr. Hill said, the size has doubled and now 60 boys and young men live on the 70-acre property.
Much of that expansion is attributable to two programs the ranch joined.
One is called “Right Path” and it offers a 12- to 18-month residential program for young men who were recently released from the Suffolk County Department of Corrections. Ten people between the ages of 17 and 21 currently participate.
Mr. Hill said the program has been “extremely successful” in helping its participants gain independence in a healthy environment. One of the key goals was avoiding recidivism.
“Many of the young men who were in [jail] were actually homeless,” he said. “They didn’t have a family support system, so they’d release them back out onto the same streets with the same so-called friends and they’d come right back again.”
The ranch also now offers a program titled “Project 180” for young men and women ages 18 to 24 who are homeless or have aged out of the foster-care system. That program aims to get them back on their feet and teach them self-sufficiency.
In 2013, Timothy Hill opened its first girl’s home at a separate campus near Sound Avenue.
The residents of both centers all receive schooling in a “hybrid” partnership with the Riverhead School District. Teachers come to the ranch to offer occasional class sessions and most coursework is done online in a computer lab.
The boys’ ranch also emphasizes hands-on skills, so all residents get local jobs or do farm work on the ranch itself.
“A farm is a pretty good place for a kid to learn how to do work,” a smiling Mr. Hill told his guests.
Photo caption: Jerry Hill, founder of the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead, led attendees on a tour of the 70-acre property during a special open house for the ranch’s 35th anniversary.