Member Feature: Providing a Second Chance at Clear Creek Farm
When Chad Gessler worked as a juvenile probation officer in Shelby County, he tried to be a strong male figure for the troubled youth he worked with — someone who they could talk to. It wasn’t long until he discovered his natural ability to get on their level and understand them. He found himself wondering what life would be like for these kids if he could change their environment.
Years later, he would have the opportunity to do just that. Gessler was serving on the board of trustees for Clear Creek Farm, a nonprofit children’s home for emotionally or physically orphaned children. In 2011, he and fellow board members found themselves without an executive director. The board asked Gessler if he’d consider filling the role.
“What went through my mind was all those times when I asked myself what if I could get those kids in a different environment, and then I realized this was that environment,” says Gessler.
Three weeks later, Gessler found himself sitting in the Clear Creek Farm executive director chair with the opportunity to change lives.
In the early 1980s, Clear Creek Farm, which is served by Pioneer Electric, was the vision of a group of school board members from Shelby and Miami counties. They wanted to create a home for orphaned children who needed emotional, physical, spiritual, and moral support.
The board members approached local businessman and philanthropist Paul G. Duke with the idea. He not only supported the organization through involvement, but also financially.
“Paul Duke has been a blessing to this place since the beginning,” says Gessler. “Clear Creek Farm was not government funded; it was not state funded — it was Paul Duke funded.”
In 1980, Clear Creek Farm was established as a corporation. The first home was built in 1983, and the first kids moved in in 1984. A second house was built in 1986, each with space for 10 children.
A majority of the kids who come to Clear Creek Farm are from counties in and around Shelby County, although the organization does accept children from any county in
the state of Ohio. Clear Creek Farm is licensed to take 6- to 18-year olds. Today, the average age of children at Clear Creek Farm is typically 14–15, with the youngest in the past decade being just 8 years old.
Clear Creek Farm was founded on the idea that love, support, and guidance is what every child needs to be successful.
When Clear Creek Farm began, they could take children without question, and there was no fee. “At that time, they did not come through the juvenile court system or child services,” says Gessler. “We, as a corporation, have had to adjust our approach as the times have changed.”
A low census in 2009 and 2010 forced Clear Creek Farm to close one of their two homes. They needed to change their way of thinking to remain relevant, says Gessler, and that’s what they did.
Today, when Clear Creek Farm receives a referral, Gessler and the lodge program coordinator meet with the individual for at least one hour, which helps them get to know the individual and the goals he/she has set for him/herself.
“If we can find something in those interviews that tells us the kids want something better for themselves, that they have some goals, we’ll give them a shot,” says Gessler. “I tell them ‘if you come to Clear Creek, you’re going to be given an opportunity, and it’s going to be up to you what you do with it.’”
If the child decides to come to Clear Creek Farm, Gessler and the other employees work to set up schooling as well as doctor, dentist, and eye appointments and counseling. They also make an individualized plan for the child, which is reevaluated and discussed every 90 days with them.
“In many cases, the kids that come here are school credit deficient,” says Gessler. “We try to do everything that we can to get them caught up and on the right track as quickly as possible.”
Children who stay at Clear Creek Farm attend Hardin Houston Schools and are often encouraged to attend Upper Valley Career Center (UVCC) in Piqua.
“We tell them to pick a trade, because there are a lot of good jobs in trades right now,” says Gessler. “If they graduate from UVCC, they can start working right away or transfer to college if they want to.”
In 2011, they reopened their second home by establishing their lodge program, which is a stabilization program that all children who go to Clear Creek Farm are required to attend. The program includes three phases that can take between nine months and a year to complete. In the lodge program, employees work with the kids and focus on behavior and academics.
“Every kid starts in the lodge program, and when they graduate, they get to decide whether they want to try foster care, live with family — if they have that option — or live in our other house here,” says Gessler. “If they choose to stay here, they are encouraged to look for part-time work and go do normal things.”
The other home on the property is staffed by full-time house parents, who are essentially foster parents on Clear Creek Farm property. Children who stay here are encouraged to get jobs and participate in extracurricular activities. The house parents make themselves available to transport the children wherever they need to go.
How long they stay tends to vary.
“We’ve had one stay for six years, others have been here for two to four,” says Gessler.
No matter how long they stay, one of Clear Creek Farm’s main goals is to help prepare the children to return to their homes if they can.
“We don’t recreate the wheel out here,” says Gessler. “We’re a safe place that tries to give kids a second chance.”
Clear Creek Farm is governed by an 11-person board and employs 17 people. Fourteen of them work directly with the children either on a full- or part-time basis.
“I occasionally have to remind the employees that sometimes it’s the small things — change isn’t immediate; it’s a process,” says Gessler.
In addition to the Paul Duke Endowment, Clear Creek Farm receives private donations and holds an annual fundraiser called the Buckeye Bash, typically in September or October in coordination with an Ohio State Buckeyes football game.
“Love, support, and guidance — that’s what every child needs to be successful,” says Gessler.