After 20 years in operation and assisting more than 2,000 at-risk young men and women, the Nature Fun Ranch (NFR) has reached a crossroads.
With a need to expand to meet the growing demand for the charity’s programme, but hindered by limited funding, founder and chief of the NFR Corey Lane told Barbados TODAY the current “pocket change” can no longer stretch far enough.
The fun ranch, which currently caters to a maximum of 30 people on a weekday and up to 50 on weekends, also works closely with Government rehabilitation centres and other intervention programmes and agencies across the island to help those in need.
Lane said the organization needs at least another vehicle, a barn, an all-terrain vehicle, paintballs and other activities to cater to the needs of more students.
There’s a pet park, horses, and a small farm on the ranch. Students are taught the art of boat building, about sustainable living including organic farming, recycling, and re-purposing.
In 2016, an independent analysis done for the organization’s 18th year of operation showed that some 2, 074 students passed through the programme and 92 per cent of those who had been through the judicial system did not return to prison or probation.
Underscoring the ranch’s importance, Lane said a Government subvention was needed to help fund operations.
“The pocket change just will not cut it anymore. We are at that [juncture] where we need serious investment in the nation’s future. I want . . . Government to understand there must be a subvention for the Nature Fun Ranch in the next Estimates because at the end of the day these are Barbados’ children,” Lane said.
The youth advocate noted that over the past 20 years the ranch has been “self-funded by knocking on doors”, with various trusts, banks, and embassies giving substantial funding in recent times. Some local manufacturers and supermarkets also render assistance.
“We [are at the point] where the facilitators’ funding and other money that we can draw from here and there can no longer take this organization any further,” Lane lamented.
Describing the ranch as an avenue for young people to develop several skills and keep out of trouble, Lane explained that while several participants would have passed through the judicial system, a lot more were coming based on early intervention.
“A large proportion of them come for [what] we call prevention intervention. These are people whose parents, teachers and well-wishers in the community reach out to us and say, ‘this child is on the trajectory of getting into some serious trouble, we would like for your organization to intervene,’” explained Lane, adding that this was now a daily occurrence. In addition, if there was a report in the newspapers about a young man or woman being remanded, Lane would get a call from concerned residents to get those children in the programme once they were released.
Lane added that the majority of those who benefited from the NFR’s programme were leading successful lives; some have been employed by various companies and others have gone on to start their own businesses.
The NFR programme typically lasts four years but students are assessed at the beginning and an agenda is tailored for them. Upon completion, some return to “give back” by helping other at-risk youth.
The same way in which parents and concerned citizens continued to flood the organization with calls to help people they were concerned about, Lane argued that he would like corporate Barbados to be calling to offer some assistance.
“At the end of the day, they send the at-risk young people here and at the end of the day, we send out citizens of excellence. That is really the plan,” said Lane.
He said the ranch was in the process of setting up a demonstration site to show how biomass, wind and other forms of energy were created.
“We want to start that from the youngest age . . . to not only tell them and show them but involve them so it becomes a way of life and easier for them as they get older,” he said, as he outlined the plans for the organization.
Besides obtaining adequate funding, Lane noted that a major challenge was the slow pace of business facilitation, describing it like “an African snail moving up a hill”.
“[This is a] major challenge because funding will come once you get that facilitation. With the change [in Government], we are hoping for better times. Working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the [National] Conservation Commission – those are relationships that can be strengthened,” he said.
The waiting list for the organization’s programme grew from about 160 two years ago to more than 300 earlier this year.
“That is why we have a set [programme] for members and one for participants. The ones on the waiting list come through for various hours and various days so they can still participate in the meantime. That is why we want to expand because there is a need for the programme,” Lane stressed.