GUTHRIE — A metro-area teenager knows about the important partnerships and rewarding friendships that often develop in the aftermath of a storm.
Molly Remondino, 17, and her mother, Denise, said they joined several friends for a cleanup project at Peppers Ranch after a tornado wreaked havoc on the Guthrie area foster-care community in 2011.
Denise Remondino said she and her daughter knew little about Peppers Ranch, a group of foster-care families living on 240 acres north of Edmond and southwest of Guthrie, before they arrived to offer aid after the storm.
She said they were delighted to meet the children and caring adults that lived there, so she was happy to eventually join the Peppers Ranch board of directors. She was even more pleased when her daughter came up with the idea for a teen board designed to assist to the foster-care community.
“It's hard to believe that we didn't know this was here,” she said, watching as her daughter helped a child ride a horse at the ranch's equestrian center on a recent sunny day.
Molly Remondino, a Heritage Hall student, created the youth board in 2012 and she said the group includes about 50 students who also attend her Oklahoma City private school.
Along with establishing the teen group, the avid equestrian recently raised $11,175 for the Peppers Ranch horse therapy riding program. She submitted an essay to the United Professional Horseman's Association's Ribbons of Service program telling why the foster-care community needed support. She set a goal to raise funds to buy new riding equipment for the program after seeing the valuable role horses play in helping to heal emotional wounds that many of the children at Peppers Ranch deal with every day.
“Horses become a way they can share a bond with something,” Molly Remondino said.
Through the Ribbons of Service program, the teenager raised money from friends, family and other interested individuals who donated funds each time she rode her horse in various horse shows.
“There's just nothing better than giving back,” she said.
Fostering compassion, hope
Jim Quade, executive director of Peppers Ranch, said it is home to 10 families and 63 children, of which 47 have a sibling living at the ranch community. Quade said the nonprofit began in 2002 as a group home for boys in the custody of the state Department of Human Services but evolved into a foster-care community about seven years later. He said foster parents pay a nominal leasing fee of $1 to live and raise their families in the cottages spread throughout the community.
Quade said Peppers Ranch is funded through private donations and currently consists of nine foster-care cottages and a larger residence that formerly housed the group home. The community also includes the McClendon Equestrian Center, the Watts Agricultural Center, a calf barn, a mechanical barn, a 9,000-square-foot learning center, several ponds, a playground, soccer field and baseball field.
Quade said the foster-care community focuses on breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect in the lives of the children who reside there. He said Molly Remondino's teen board has been a positive addition to the Peppers Ranch community.
“It gets our kids exposed to these great young people and the idea of what it means to be a young person who gives back,” he said.
Denise Remondino agreed.
“It's teaching them about compassion and how important it is to give back,” she said of both the teen board members and the children they are mentoring. “It is such a two-way street.”
She said her daughter and the other teens have realized that they can be much-needed positive role models for youths at the foster-care community.
“I think teenagers get out here and they really see they can make a difference just doing little things. It's the consistency,” she said.
More teens sought
Molly Remondino said she will be a senior in the fall and is hoping to expand the teen board to include students from other high schools besides her own. She said she would like to see the group continue to be active after she begins college, and expansion may help achieve that goal.
Besides helping with the foster-care community's horse therapy program, the teen board volunteers assist Peppers Ranch in a variety of ways, she said.
The group initially helped clean up the property in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado and donated books for the ranch community's library, which was damaged in the storm.
Molly Remondino said she and the other teen volunteers try to visit the foster-care community once a month for various activities. She said the volunteer group helped children at the foster-care community to plant flowers around some of the cottages and they also held a party for the children at a nearby lake. She said the volunteers also held a water fun party and a gathering in which the children roasted hot dogs and made s'mores.
The teen said one of the more popular events is the volunteer board's Birthday Buddies program in which the volunteers supply cake and pizza for children during the month of their birthday.
She said the popularity of the horse program at the foster-care community has given the teen volunteers other ideas for activities. She said they hope to offer some horse clinics at Peppers Ranch during the summer and perhaps end the season with a horse show.