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Normandy boys ranch has new leadership

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 4/30/22

Normandy’s Riverbend Ranch, formerly Arrowhead Ranch, sits on around 170 acres on Cortner Mill. It’s got cows and chickens and ponds and rolling hills, but it’s more than a …

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Normandy boys ranch has new leadership


Normandy’s Riverbend Ranch, formerly Arrowhead Ranch, sits on around 170 acres on Cortner Mill. It’s got cows and chickens and ponds and rolling hills, but it’s more than a ranch.

Many in the community know Arrowhead Ranch as a residential care facility for troubled boys. Executive Director Darren Delin said his goal is to also establish a place where families can create “core memories” as well as create a community for local nonprofits.

“The nonprofit is going to be a completely new organization,” Delin said, adding that it will take some time.

According to former Arrowhead Ranch director Jeff Sweeney, the nonprofit took a financial hit during COVID-19, when fundraising and in-person events were closed.

So, when new ranch owner Patrick Curtis moved to Shelbyville from Orange County, California, he knew he wanted to save the ranch. He encouraged his friend and small group leader, Pastor Delin, to take on the task as director.

“I think Darren and Deena will do a great job taking the ranch to the next level,” said Sweeney.

From the Golden Coast to the South

Delin says the financial instability of the ranch did not stop him from taking the opportunity to follow God’s call to ministry in a new direction.

Delin was a pastor at Saddleback Church in Anaheim, California for 15 years. He’s had experience working with youth, having been a young adult and next generation pastor.

He admits he had no reason to leave his full-time ministry position. But after visiting the ranch with Curtis for the first time in April 2021, Delin said he began to see the potential.

“Once I got here, saw what’s going on, I fell in love with the idea that this is ministry, just in a different context and place,” Delin said. After weeks of prayer, deciding between leaving one ministry for another, Delin and his family made the move in early July.

Coming from a condo in California, the wide-open spaces of the ranch have brought a peaceful change to the otherwise overwhelming task.

He says he finds he has more time to spend with his young family: his wife Deena and his kids Jed, 5, Remy, 3, and Montana, 3-months. It’s some of the first time he’s been able to attend church, The Experience in Shelbyville, with his family instead of standing behind the pulpit.

“Right now, my ministry is my family...They’ve always been the ones supporting me.” Delin said they are even looking into bringing pastoral families out to the ranch to help with “burn-out.”

Same place, new name, new vision

Sweeney recalled, “Something we would always say would be progress, not perfection.”

Delin said the boys at the ranch typically had a stigma attached to them. “Now, the ranch is really geared toward boys who need a safe, consistent, loving home. I'm not saying they have it all figured out...but if they need placement, it’s usually something in their family.”

Nothing about the ranch is forced, Delin said. Instead, everything is on a volunteer basis and usually the families reach out to the ranch, asking for help and support.

“That’s one of the things we’re realizing: a lot of these kids that come to us, they haven’t got the experience to just be a kid before,” Delin said.

Updated mission and vision

Riverbend Ranch is still a boy's home (Delin said he gets four or five calls every week for placement). But they want to start pouring into families.

Whether it’s something as simple as conversation at the dinner table or weekend trips that create those “core memories,” Delin said the goal at Riverbend will be to serve as an example for young boys in how a family should operate.

“The mission is how do we give parents that opportunity to create core memories with their families because that’s what builds a solid foundation of a family,” Delin said.

A lot of the kids have been told they won’t succeed, according to Delin. The farm animals, a maintenance skills shop, and a garden all help give the boys an opportunity to develop skills while staying at the ranch for around one year.

This model is crucial for pouring into the future “25-year-old" boy. Delin said he wants them to look back on their experience at the ranch and remember what a model family looks like so that way they can make better decisions for their future family.

The ranch is housing four boys now. As funding gets secured, Delin said they hope to house more.

For now, he wants to build up what they have now. They have five workers at the ranch, including Delin himself. Two work the land while two serve as house parents. “We have capacity for a lot, but realistically, I want us to grow in a healthy way,” Delin said.

Nonprofit connections

Funding is still one of the challenges for Riverbend. “We are massively looking for supporters of the ranch,” said Delin.

However, he has the goal to connect with at least 25 nonprofits this year.

“I want to open the ranch up. We’re lucky it’s in a beautiful location, and we have the space to do it,” said Delin. “It’s mutually beneficial.”

This will help the ranch be a boys' home with “something more.” For example, Casting for Recovery (a fly-fishing class for breast cancer patients) was hosted recently, while others like First Baptist Tullahoma, Project Healing Waters, and Grace Christian are coming for camping and fishing trips.

“We all have the same goal. We all are wanting health; we’re all wanting to care for and help other people,” said Delin.

Faith knowledge

In addition to creating a space for nonprofits, Riverbend Ranch is also a ministry.

Where Delin was still a pastor 24-7, it’s new to him to be engaged with the Riverbend boys in all aspects of their life. “In this way you see the ups-and-downs,” Delin said. “You see the whole person." Delin jokes he is less of a pastoral “cheerleader” and more of a life mentor.

Delin said most of the boys who have come to the ranch identify as a Christian but don’t know what that relation looks like.

“There’s that door. Your family’s Christian, but what does that mean for you?” Delin said he approaches those faith conversations throughout the day and at the dinner table, instead of just one set time.

“We have these little conversations and touch points all over the place. Christ is the center of what we do always. It’s not just a church moment; it’s our lifestyle,” Delin said.

And personally, “My relationship with Christ has changed and my ministry has changed in a great way.”

For more information, visit www.riverbendranchtn.com or visit their Facebook and Instagram pages @riverbendranchtn.