Foster community expanding for children in DHS custody

OKLAHOMA CITY - Peppers Ranch in Guthrie looks like a typical neighborhood.

"We're lacking a zip code and a mayor. That's kind of what Peppers Ranch is like. It's its own little town, a little community,” said Tonya Ratcliff, executive director for Peppers Ranch.

It's a community for children who have been neglected or abused.

While it originally started in 2002, Ratcliff helped transform Peppers Ranch into what it is now.

"What if we could create an unbelievable community right here in Oklahoma where we have the best of the best in foster parents but more importantly we have almost a community of like-minded families that had that calling and that love for foster care and adoption?" Ratcliff said.

The parents who live there pay rent and must open their home to at least five children in DHS custody.

They also pay a service fee for the many activities there including an equestrian center, indoor gym and a swimming pool. There are also several therapy programs for the children who live there.

Harley Graves moved from Altus this summer to live in the brand new home at Peppers Ranch.

"Being that I already have one that's adopted, it's something I wanted to do and to be able to move out here to Peppers, it was a great opportunity to be able to come out here and be able to help more,” said Graves, a foster dad.

Harley is a single dad who adopted his daughter, Cheyeanne, last year. She is a teen we featured on 'A Place to Call Home' and later followed up with them in 2017.

Since then, Harley has made it his mission to help other children in foster care.

"There was something about Harley because I'm telling you he was ready. He was willing. He was coming to town,” Ratcliff said.

Harley moved three hours to Peppers and got a new job working for Guthrie schools. Now, he lives in a house full of teens.

"When I came, I came with one that moved up here with me and then we've gotten some that have come and they've left. Gotten some new ones along the way. But, having six, five of which are teenagers, has been interesting,” Graves said.

But, Harley said the support from the other families is exceptional.

"The families out here are just amazing. Any support that any of us need to talk to anybody," he said.

More families will be a part of the Peppers Ranch community when they build 40 more homes on 415 acres of donated land not too far away.

"The donor asked me 'What are you going to do when you run out of room?' And, I said I'll find more land because there are more Oklahoma children that need the hope of a home and the hope of a family,” Ratcliff said.

Tonya said they also plan to build nine more homes at the original Peppers Ranch. When all is finished, she said they will be able to care for an eighth of Oklahoma's children in foster care.

"With this acreage, we will transform it into a basically a mirror image of this community,” she said.

To give more children the hope of a place to call home.

For more information on Peppers Ranch and their efforts, visit peppersranch.com.