Cheat Lake Magazine, August 2020
Fifteen years ago, Steve and Dawn Finn left behind all that was familiar to pursue a vision. Steve was a police officer in Atlanta for 12 years. They both had a heart for youth who needed restored hope and love in their lives. The Finns went to work for a children’s home called Eagle Ranch. After three years of being houseparents at Eagle Ranch, they witnessed a program that worked. Real results were taking shape in the lives of the young men they served, and families were being restored. The vision began to stir, and “what if” conversations began to happen more frequently.
“After much prayer and planning, we decided to take this ministry model to my home state of West Virginia,” Steve explained. “We had some tell us ‘It can’t be done,’ so we decided to trust in God to provide for every step and remain debt-free. We didn’t know anyone, and we had no money … just a very big dream.”
Since 2005, the vision of Chestnut Mountain Ranch has become a reality. Children and families are being restored. The Ranch builds and grows only when it can financially pursue that growth. “We are not in Atlanta, and we have had to think outside the box when it comes to fundraising,” Steve said. “Golf events in places like Atlanta can generate six figures, but that playbook doesn’t work here.”
There are fundraisers, but the Finns have also built some great social enterprise businesses. The Ranch Community Store is a high-end thrift store that is much more than a source of revenue for growth; it has become a place that shoppers enjoy visiting while the boys can work and learn life skills that will help launch them.
The Ranch team of staff and board members began their own “what if” conversations. Three years ago, the Ranch Quick Lube launched a shop in Sabraton with the tagline: “Change your oil, change a life.” Like the thrift store, the community responded. Both stores generate about 20 percent of the needed annual revenue.
Chestnut Mountain Ranch is located about six miles from Morgantown off of the Kingwood Pike. As you enter the property, you will see manicured grounds, a ball field, fishing ponds, and a beautiful entrance drive that follows the path of Aaron’s Creek. The Ranch currently has a main Administration Building/Family Life Center, a new Ranch School, staff housing, two boys’ homes and a third under construction, a woodworking shop, a basketball court, and enough woods and trails for boys to experience a childhood. The Ranch program is a Christian-based model.
The Finns have a vision to build five more homes on the property. They are hoping the third home, the Faith Home, will be completed this fall, but more funds are needed. A girl’s ranch might be built one day, but it will be on separate land in this area.
Steve recently spoke to his sister, Jan, about the COVID-19 crisis and how it has impacted The Ranch. The thrift store and quick lube had been closed, giving has decreased and finances are tight. The annual Don Nehlen Golf Classic was canceled, and the Night at The Ranch dinner is being moved to the fall. Jan is an artist who owns her own studio in Matthews, Virginia.
Jan had an idea. She offered to use her talents in painting wildlife to create a limited number of prints for sale to benefit The Ranch. Jan proposed that a bird photographer in the Morgantown area send her images that she’d use to paint local birds. Kevin Armstrong connected with Jan and the plan for Birds of Cheat Lake was created. Much like getting your oil changed or dropping off items at The Ranch Community Store, this is another unique way the community can help support more children.