Arizona camp teaches foster children cowboy skills

There are more than 14,000 children in Arizona’s foster care system and every summer, a few get to spend a night at the Flying E Ranch, riding horses, shooting arrows and making new friends out of the city and under the stars. Student Reporting Labs Giovanni Soriano has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight, we take you to cowboy camp.

    There are more than 14,000 kids in Arizona's foster care system, and every summer, a few get to spend time at the Flying E Ranch riding horses, shooting arrows and making new friends out of the city and under the stars.

    From our student report labs, Giovanni Soriano explains.

  • Giovanni Soriano:

    There are many kids who feel disconnected. There is an organization that that reaches out to kids and gives them the opportunity to be cowboys.

  • Gary Webb, Founder, OCJ Kids:

    So my name is Gary Webb, and my wife and I are the founders of OCJ Kids. It stands for Opportunity, Community and Justice for Kids.

    And we partner with kids in the foster care system. So, as they journey through the foster care system, we want to make sure they have resources, mentors, support systems along the way. And then we partner with foster group home kids to send mentors into the group homes to just create family to create a support system, again, with the kids.

  • Stephen Ballard, Cowboy Camper:

    I was moved in and out of foster homes because of the problems that my parents ran into. But I have always made it back to them.

  • Blake Sparks, Cowboy Camper:

    Sometimes, you can feel, like, special once you like find a family, or sometimes you just feel like a disconnect because you don't have your actual family with you.

  • Giovanni Soriano:

    The staff not only get to help the kids, but they get to build relationships and connect in a positive environment.

  • Jason Barrera, Behavioral Health Technician:

    My father flew the coop when I was 8 years old. My mom was in and out of my life. I didn't really have a positive person to communicate with, which is why I do what I do, is because I grew up in a broken home.

  • Gary Webb:

    I love just coming out here watching these kids who have been in the city their whole life come up here, and they just have a new experience. And they get a chance to experience the Western life and get out of town.

  • Blake Sparks:

    I like what they're doing here. They're really helping a bunch of people out, experiencing things they haven't experienced before.

    Favorite activity is probably the horseback riding, because it's a fun way to just get out of your head.

  • Giovanni Soriano:

    This experience gives these kids a feeling of acceptance, creating a turning point in their lives.

  • Gary Webb:

    I had a kid that was afraid to ride horses. And he came out here, was just petrified. And we really encourage the kids to get on the horses, because it gives them the whole, complete experience of camp.

    They took care of him. They just had special attention that one kid, and he got on the horse, just rode the arena. And it just — it was life-changing for him. He will never forget it.

    When they see somebody cares about them and believes in them, beyond just staff or people being paid, it lets them know, hey, you can speak into my life. And when you just start saying, I see who you are inside, just that message to these kids is so important, because, again, they don't have somebody as a parent to infuse them with that message of, you can do it. We believe in you. You're not worthless. You're not discard. You're valued in this life.

  • Blake Sparks:

    You have more support than you think you do in life. When you think you're alone, you have still got people. You just got to find them.

  • Giovanni Soriano:

    For the PBS NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs, this is Giovanni Soriano in Wickenburg, Arizona.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wonderful to see that story.

    It was produced during the NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs' Summer Academy, where teens from around the country come together to hone their journalism, film and storytelling skills.

    And you can watch more of their stories at StudentReportingLabs.org.

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