Samaritan Ministries members Craig and Jen Thompson founded Rockside Ranch to provide young men in crisis with a fresh start and a new path through nutrition, job and life skills, and discipleship.
Rockside Ranch, started in 2011, is a non-profit working ranch located in the Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps of northern California. Men from across the country ranging in age from 18 to 24 come to the recovery program with addiction issues—most commonly pornography, video games, cell phones, and marijuana. The young men are often homeless, have a lack of purpose and motivation, and are not necessarily followers of Christ, the Thompsons say.
Craig and Jen’s mission is to give these guys the Gospel, show them the love of Christ, cultivate genuine familial community, and provide authentic discipleship. In addition, the Thompsons and their team offer trade-skill workshops and teach the men farming, nutrition, and cooking skills.
Rockside Ranch reports an 80 percent success rate in equipping young men with the skills necessary to live an independent and productive life. Even so, after the men have graduated and gone, Jen and Craig want each one to know he always has a home and a place at Rockside Ranch.
“If they ever come upon hard times again, we always want them to know, ‘You don’t ever have to be homeless again,’” Jen says.
Jen is fully committed to the ranch and the men God has sovereignly placed on the Thompsons’ path.
“Something that we really seek and are passionate about is sticking with the men and knowing them for a really long time—even when they are not at the ranch anymore,” Jen says. “Our guys have a lot of mountains to climb, and we are committed to supporting them for as long as we can.”
Our guys have a lot of mountains to climb, and we are committed to supporting them for as long as we can.Jen Thompson
Rockside Ranch is an eight-month residential program that costs approximately $20,000, about one- third of the cost of other residential programs. Even so, most of the men who arrive at Rockside are unable to pay even a fraction of that amount.
“We have some guys who can only afford to pay $50 a month, and that is it,” Craig says.
The Thompsons trust that God will provide, though, and they strive to take in as many men as possible.
To make up for the cost, Rockside Ranch relies on the generous support of over 300 donor families, as well as fundraising throughout the year.
Additionally, the Thompsons are so committed to these men and the calling to help, instruct, and disciple them that they take weekend jobs just to make a few extra bucks.
“We are always doing side jobs and anything we can just to piece together extra money,” Jen says. “A couple years back, Craig took a side job on the weekends cleaning rooms in a hotel. It was so sweet and really meaningful to me to see Craig scrubbing toilets at this hotel so that we could put these guys through the program.”
“We are just so committed to them and seeing them thrive,” Jen says. “So often they just do not have anyone who is going to do that for them, and so we want to do it and be those people.”
A day in the life at Rockside Ranch looks a little different than a typical recovery program. While Rockside Ranch is a Certified Recovery Residence through the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, it is not a medically-certified rehabilitation center. The focus at Rockside is more on ministry and gaining the life skills needed to be a functioning adult in society.
Each day the men are up about 6:30 in the morning. Morning chores, like caring for and feeding animals, begin at 7. Breakfast is at 8 and morning devotions are at 9. After breakfast, the men are back out on the farm doing various projects. At 1 p.m., lunch is served, and then classes begin for the afternoon. Around 4, evening chores and egg collecting happens. After that is dinner and then a final evening session of devotionals and Bible study before bed.
Jen and Craig say they feel strongly about the vital role of nutrition in mental and physical health and spend much time and effort teaching the men why they must care for and steward their bodies well. Everything on the 100-acre property is raised and grown without pesticides, chemicals, or glyphosate products. The men help maintain a large garden, an apple and pear tree orchard, and blackberry bushes. There are 30 acres of pasture where turkeys, horses, cows, sheep, goats, and chickens roam. The pigs run free in the 60 acres of timberland. Operation facilities including houses, roads, barns, shops, and outbuilding comprise the remaining 10 acres. Outside of selling some meat and eggs, all food goes to feed the residents of Rockside Ranch.
Another unique aspect about Rockside Ranch is that the men eat every meal in the dining room of the Thompson home. Jen joyfully spends much of her day preparing all the food while simultaneously caring for the Thompsons’ own young children.
Jen strives to teach the men to look at food labels and to pick foods with the least amount of ingredients. For most of the men, who were either homeless and eating whatever they could get their hands on or spending their days going through fast-food drive-throughs, or getting their meals at a gas station, a sit down home-cooked dinner at the dining table is a huge difference, Jen and Craig say.
It’s part of that fresh start that the men of Rockside Ranch need.