The Exodus Ranch officially became a non-profit in 2012, but the need to help children appeared years before for Shelley and Joe Tufts.
The family moved to Opelika, Alabama in 2005 with four children, their fifth would be born less than a year after they moved. Shelley had been staying at home with her children, but with four in school, she started asking God what she should start doing next.
It was at a women’s retreat through her church that God started her on the path that would lead to The Exodus Ranch.
“I went to a women’s retreat with our church and met this lady that had been in some programs and stuff with drug recovery and everything,” Tufts said. “ I came back, and several months later, she showed up at my door and asked me if I could watch her little boy. And so we ended up, after some time of trying to help both of them, she ended up asking us if we would take custody of him. So as the years went on, the Lord just brought more and more situations across our path that way. Then the Lord gave me the road for The Exodus Ranch.”
In 2012, the family registered The Exodus Ranch as a non-profit and began the process of building a home that would fit their needs to provide as much help as they could to children in need.
It took four and a half years for the home to be finished, with the Tufts officially moving onto the property in the Spring of 2016.
“Over the next four and a half years we purchased the property and people began to come out to help us with the property,” Tufts said. “We ended up having over 5,000 volunteers that came out in the time that we restored the property. But it was a very hard time, there would be times where nothing would happen. It would be like a cold, wet winter and we’re sitting here paying not only the mortgage of the house that we were living in but this mortgage too. There were times that we almost lost the property and I just prayed and prayed and prayed, and God showed me to just ask people to pray for us with one need at a time. So we started doing that. Like we would pray for the windows, or we would pray for electricity, we prayed for the water. As God met that need then we would move on. So it was hard.”
The mission of The Exodus Ranch is to provide a home for children living through difficult situations. This may come in the form of the children living with the Tufts or through participating in activities and programs to help the child while they still live with their parents. They will also provide help for the parents, even if it’s just watching the children while the parent takes time to grocery shop and clean their home or go to work.
“People ask us ‘what we do, who we take in?’ We just pray over it and do what we can to help that family, to meet that need,” Tufts said. “Whether it’s helping them permanently or whether it’s a short time period that they need some help, or if it’s their kids never come here, they just need a family to kind of love them and help them make it through.”
A big focus in on providing educational assistance with the aide of retired teachers to help kids that have fallen behind in school. The home has a learning room so children can be homeschooled before re-entering the school system. The room will be expanded as part of the addition to the house Third Lens is helping with.
“What that learning room is where, as we’ve seen over the years like a lot of our girls that will come in that maybe were in high school will have failed the ninth grade three times and it’s not really because of any fault of theirs academically, it’s because their parents have moved them around and they haven’t been able to like stay in school long enough to finish a credit, and so what we try to do is get them caught up and ready for the course,” Tufts said. “So that is a blessing to be able to do that. That’s one of the reasons for the learning room, and then a lot of the kids that just have really been, just damaged, and they need more time of you by putting hands on and loving them and they need to be able to get out and to do things physically. And so, that allows us to be able to bring other teachers in to work with them in a classroom environment and to stay here if they want to permanently. We’re trying to get them ready to send them back into the school system. Kind of what our plan is right now is to keep the ones that have been homeschooling here through their 10th grade year, and for them to go over to Southern Union for their junior and senior year in their technical program. And so, that learning room will allow us to be able to bring retired educators and other educators that are homeschooling their own children to our classroom, to be able to teach. And so I’m really excited about that.”
The addition to the back of the house that Third Lens is helping with includes the learning room, adding five bedrooms, a place for more storage. That storage room will allow for two more freezers as well as another washer and dryer. In the long term, Tufts would also like to add some smaller homes on the property that would allow for some of the older kids who have graduated to come back if they wish or stay home while they attend school.