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Submitted Photo The chapel at the Assurance Home gets its tower mid-1980.

An insight into the civic clubs and organizations — part 2: Assurance Home

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Today, we continue the series introducing our local clubs and organizations. These nonprofit organizations are a huge part of the U.S. and our area.

The Assurance Home in Roswell celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It came to my attention in February of this year, when visiting the home with the Pecos Valley Quilters members who were donating homemade quilts.

The home has a unique concept, caring for teenagers who may be homeless and who are at risk of falling through the cracks in the system. Especially teenagers who had to be removed from their families and — as vulnerable as they are, dealing with trauma and needing stability — having been passed on from one foster home to the next.

Fifteen teenagers have found a home with the Assurance Home this year; a stability and care that they might have never encountered. And it all begins with the first step into the Assurance Home, which is an old farmhouse that has been changed into a beautiful estate, nestled within a grove of trees and fields on a 16-acre property. Close to the city, yet still far enough to give the kids the sense of living in the country.

Ron Malone, known to the children as “Pops,” is the executive director of the Assurance Home.

It is important for Malone to get one point out, “Not every child that lives here comes from families that mistreat them,” he said. “Sometimes it is just unfortunate circumstances that happened in their lives and they end up alone. It’s hard to be alone when you are young — it’s hard when you are an adult. But it’s especially hard when you are 14 years old and you don’t have family and you don’t have people that care about you and love you and that’s exactly what we try to do. We are just a group of people that want to help kids, create good lives for themselves and not much more than that.”

Malone remembers the very first struggles trying to help the kids, but it was actually in a roundabout way that he found his calling.

Sitting in the living room of the home, he said, “I’ve been with it (Assurance Home) since the beginning, back in the early ‘70s; there was a program called the Chaves County Boys Home and it was a home on East Second Street. It was for delinquent boys who were either on the way to jail or on their way out of jail and going back into the community.

“I was just a person fresh out of college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and I got a job at the Chaves County Boys Home,” Malone said.

Unfortunately, the program closed because of lack of support for the delinquent kids, but Malone found that he enjoyed working with the children. “The Chaves County Boys Home gave me the tremendous opportunity to have a huge impact on people’s lives because the people you worked with, you saw them every day and in every aspect of their life: In the mornings, in the evenings, through the good times and the bad times,” he said.

“There were a lot of people in Roswell at that time, that had the feeling that there had to be some kind of program needed for kids that either were in trouble or before they got in trouble. So the Assurance Home Board of Directors incorporated back in 1975, and we just spent several years to figure out what kind of program was needed in Roswell. What we found out was that a lot of kids that got involved in the criminal justice system were kids that came from bad homes, poor home environments. There were kids that were abused and neglected and mistreated and just weren’t parented very well. So we decided what we needed was a program to reach children before they got involved in the criminal justice system. We wanted to open a home for kids that were abused and neglected. And so, we raised money and wrote grants and did a lot of work trying to start this program and Assurance Home actually opened its doors in 1979, about four years after we incorporated,” Malone said.

The beginning of the Assurance Home was a very humble one, Malone remembers. “We first opened out on the old airport terminal building on the base, and the building we were in was just a huge 10,000-foot building that was never meant to be a permanent building,” he said. “It was built by the Air Force. Sen. Pete Domenici helped us get that building to start our program. We were renting that building for $1 a year. But there was no insulation in that building so at the first winter, we were having a gas bill of $1,200 a month. Our board thought — with that, we can buy a place. So the board started searching for a home that we could purchase.”

The search took several years until 1982. “Three years after we opened, we moved to this location and this place was just like Heaven for us,” Malone said. “It is so nice. It didn’t really look like this when we first bought it. It was just a big farmhouse on 3 acres of land; and it wasn’t really designed for kids, but we made it work. We had one bedroom upstairs, we put four bunk beds upstairs and we put eight girls upstairs. There were no closets, there was one bathroom. We had the boys downstairs. We put bunk beds in the den for the boys. We were thrilled to have that place. And we had the land: 3 acres. We ended up with horses and goats and chickens, just a real farm kinda atmosphere.

“The great thing about this location is that it feels real country, but we are in the city limits. We have land, but not really close neighbors,” Malone said.

Throughout the years, the board was able to purchase more acres and more were donated. They expanded not only the home, but also have water rights, a barn, a pasture for horses and a rope course.

“We added on to the home,” Malone said. “We added bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. We have apartments for older kids. We have a library, a chapel, a therapy center. Through the years, we’ve been able to make this probably one of the finest facilities you can find anywhere for kids.”

The inside of the home is decorated with donated art and antiques, giving it a warm and beautiful character. It has the feeling of a home, not just a facility. This too, was planned according to Malone, “When a child walks into the Assurance Home, we want them to know that, as soon as they walk through the door, they are in a good place. Our board feels like if anybody needs beauty in their lives, these children need it. We worked really hard to make our home feel comfortable.”

Over the years, the program was tweaked and adapted to the needs of the children, yet, still focusing on teenagers, male and female. “When we first opened, kids were able to come here and just stay until they could emancipate. We had children that came as early as when they were 12 and left when they were 18,” Malone said.

“We always felt that one of the best things you can do for kids is put them in a nice, loving, safe environment and surround them with loving adults who are good role models and a lot of problems they have in their lives get straightened out,” Malone said.

“In the early 1990s, we became a residential treatment facility. We hired therapists and people to do therapy with the kids. That lasted for about five or six years, and then we were able to go back to being a therapeutic group home. We continue to provide therapy for our kids, and we had bachelor’s level therapists on staff. Because children who had been abused or neglected or are not able to live with their families, for whatever reasons, usually have a lot of trauma in their lives and need to process their trauma through therapy and learn to feel good about themselves. We are now considered a treatment program, but we’re also a group home and kids can just live here and be as normal as possible,” Malone said.

“Also in the ‘90s, we opened what we call a crisis shelter for children in crisis. We provide two different programs. We have a crisis shelter and therapeutic group home. The crisis shelter is for kids in crisis that is only temporary and they can stay as little as overnight or as long as 90 days. That’s usually meant for children where there’s not a lot of information on. Maybe it was just found out that there is something wrong with their families or in their lives. They just need a temporary place to stay until they can figure out what they need,” Malone said.

“Our therapeutic group home is more longterm for kids that have a difficult time living with their families, or their families needing to make a correction before they can go home,” Malone said. “They might have to be here a little bit longer. We have one girl that has been here for three years.

“We work hard to try to help our children to transition into adulthood to make sure that they are able to create successful lives for themselves. They all go to public schools, middle school all the way up to college. We have some kids going to Roswell High School, most going to Goddard High School, Berrendo Middle School and Mesa Middle School,” Malone said.

The life of the kids cared for in the Assurance Home includes everything a child has in a large family, including chores. They learn to be responsible, taking care of the horses, cleaning, doing their wash and even taking out the trash. The teenagers receive an allowance; they can bring their friends home, have barbecue, go on summer vacation and are firmly integrated in the community. While not affiliated with one church, the Assurance Home has a chapel next to the house that is always open. Here the teenagers can pray or find a quiet moment to think, and on Sundays, children can go to the church of their choice. “The chapel is more a symbol, that your (the kids) spiritual life is important,” Malone said.

It is no surprise that the Assurance Home project came to the attention of media nationwide. It was featured on TV, in newspapers and magazines. However, the Assurance Home is still a unique concept. “There are not many places like this for kids in New Mexico,” Malone said.

Anything we can do to make a kid’s life better, that’s what we try to do.

Over the years, the Assurance Home has found many supporters that helped and even kept doing so when they passed. There is a garden tucked to the house with the names of those who left the home money in their living will.

Today, the Assurance Home has 21 members on its board of directors and on its foundation board. The women and men come from all lines of life. Some are business owners, others attorneys or retirees.

President of the Assurance Home’s board of directors this year is Richard Taylor. He said that he was introduced to the home through a client of his. He did a tour of the compound and joined, becoming a board member, “I’ve been on the board for 20 years,” he said. “The more I learned about the organization, the more I wanted to be involved because it is such an excellent organization providing care for these children.”

Asked about the challenges, Taylor said, “The challenges are several. One is constantly obtaining sufficient funding to operate the Assurance Home. The Assurance Home operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means you have to have staff there, people working all around the clock, as you can’t have a period of time where there aren’t adults staffed there with the children. It’s expensive and the cost of — let’s face it — the cost of raising children is always increasing and of course, our cost at the Assurance Home continues to increase. Staff, food, clothing, medical care and everything you normally provide for a child, we provide for them. Which also includes counseling. We have counselors on staff who work with the children because lots of time they have emotional problems they need help with. Most have come from some trauma in their background.

“We try to maintain 14 to 16 children there,” Taylor said. “That’s a good number. When you have too many, then we have to expand the staff and everything else. Less than that and our numbers go down, our funding would also go down. We apply for grants and get the funding from different sources, but we also rely a lot on donations from the general public.

“Obviously, the money is very important, but it is to provide the proper care for these children and obtaining success, so when those kids leave the Assurance Home, there is a future for them. We have a very high success ratio and many times we’ve had children when they graduate from high school that have gone on to college like out at Eastern (Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell) and we work with them getting them into educational programs or maybe a trade school. So, we don’t just say, ‘OK, you are 18, out the door.’ No, we transition them into a normal lifestyle, so whether it would be going on to some kind of college or some have gone into the military. Some may just try to find a job and go to work. Give them the training and help them transition. There are children that actually went back to their family because the situation has improved,” Taylor said.

“The community has been very generous, and at Christmas time, we find a lot of people will donate Christmas gifts and various things to the children,” Taylor said.

Asked how somebody can help, Taylor said, “They can contact the home, the director or any of us, if they want to help or even be on the board. We are always welcoming people who are interested. People who find out about the home ask us if they can give us a donation.”

According to Malone, the Assurance Home has housed and helped thousands of children. Just as with a real family, walking through the home are many memorabilia of those children: Photos are on display and there is even pottery they made under the guidance of a Roswell Artist-in-Residence member who found out about the program.

“There is a lot of things people can do in the community, anything from making quilts for our kids. There is a lady who bakes our kids a birthday cake and people who help us to do our summer vacation or little trips to Albuquerque. This summer, we’re going inner-tubing in the mountains. I know one group comes out for pumpkin carving contest in fall. Anything that kids enjoy. Our kids love to do those, they didn’t get to do them when they were younger. Now they really like it,” Malone said.

For more information, visit assurancehome.org or call 575-624-1780.

Are you a board member or officer of a nonprofit civic club or organization? Contact us to tell the story of your organization. For more information, email vision@rdrnews.com or call 575-622-7710, ext. 309.