Soaring Wings Ranch welcomes Arkansas First Lady

by Sonja J. Keith
Mike Kemp photos

Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson visited Soaring Wings Ranch on Aug. 27, getting a firsthand view of work that is being done to care for children who call the ranch home.

Mrs. Hutchinson spent about four hours at the ranch, which included lunch with children who live in one of the four homes on the campus. On this particular day, 23 children called the ranch home, with only one opening.

“Not long ago, most of these children were rescued from homes where drug abuse, neglect and misplaced priorities had taken over,” said Andrew Watson, ranch founder and executive director. “To go from that despair to dining with Mrs. Hutchinson is quite a change!”

“Soaring Wings Ranch is a loving and peaceful place for children to experience a safe haven and discover the reality of a functioning family scheme,” said Mrs. Hutchinson. “They discover unconditional love and a framework in which to thrive.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the First Lady are making it an administration priority to bring more attention and focus to the plight of children in the state’s foster care system. “Without Soaring Wings Ranch, it is likely that the children Mrs. Hutchinson met would be adding to an already overburdened foster care system,” Watson said.

The First Lady’s favorite aspect of the Ranch was family. “They want their natural family to function and pray for them, but they appreciate the family that is helping them now,” she said. “The urgency to have foster parents and safe havens for such children in need, whether temporarily or permanently, is all the stronger. And my desire to see parents live up to their responsibilities is all the more stronger.”

Soaring Wings Ranch is dedicated to serving this population of kids needing a safe and fresh start. SWR gives children a chance at a normal life when circumstances beyond their control cause them to be separated from their biological parents. Christian house parents raise these children as their own until they are either reunited with their family, adopted or graduate high school.

Each of the homes at the ranch is a first-rate facility in a scenic setting that can house up to eight boys or eight girls. “This makes it easier to keep sibling groups together…something the foster care system often struggles to do,” Watson said.

Watson and others on the ranch shared with the First Lady how the spiritual, academic, physical and emotional needs of the children are met.

Sitting at the dining table in their home at the ranch, some of the children visited with the First Lady on a variety of topics including board games and trips to the beach.

Mrs. Hutchinson also shared with some of the children the importance of choices as she explained them to her children when they were growing up.

She said good choices typically resulted in more good choices. She said a bad choice would mean more choices but not ones that were as good.

“Life gets complicated,” she said. “God cares about those choices.”

As she was about to leave the ranch, Mrs. Hutchinson asked the children and staff if there was something in particular she should remember about Soaring Wings. “It’s awesome. It’s great. It’s like a family,” one boy responded.

“We always need family,” the First Lady replied. “God is good to help us find the right family and sometimes we have to choose a new family.”