Shirley bolsters Stephens link to youth homes

  • This is the entrance to the Georgia Sheriff’s Boys Ranch facility in Hahira. Four other youth homes are located around the state.
    This is the entrance to the Georgia Sheriff’s Boys Ranch facility in Hahira. Four other youth homes are located around the state.

    Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley was looking through a box of memorabilia when he came across an old magazine.
    That publication, he said, cleared up a misconception about the origin of the Georgia Sheriff's Youth Homes.
    As Shirley tells it, the story described in law enforcement circles went that the purchase of the property in Hahira that launched the youth homes was the concept of a group of sheriffs from the state's southwestern corner who saw a need to do something for children who had been abused, neglected, and abandoned.
    "There was a huge need," Shirley said.
    But the property's purchase, according to the November, 1959, Georgia Sheriff's Association publication that Shirley found, was the result of a steering committee of eight state sheriffs — one of whom was Shirley's grandfather, Wilmer, the Stephens County sheriff at the time.
    The discovery of the magazine came somewhat as a surprise as Shirley said his intent was to find out more about his grandfather's service in World War II, searching for information from boxes of his grandfather's possessions that had been stored away.
    "I knew my grandfather was one of the co-founders (of the youth homes)," said Shirley, whom following in his grandfather’s footsteps, was named president of the Georgia Sheriff's Youth Homes on July 1.
    Initially, the property selected by the steering committee served only boys.
    According to the 1959 publication, the total cost was some $65,000 paid to "Buster" Duggan for 604 acres in Hahira.
    "They had $1,000 they put down," Shirley said.
    Since then, Shirley said that 200 acres of that original property have been sold.
    However, Shirley said four additional locations have been developed: Cherokee Estate in Whitfield County northeast of Dalton, MountainView near Chatsworth, Herrington Homestead in Emanuel County, and Pineland/Camp Pioneer in Troup County.
    Shirley said that youths of both genders started being allowed in the 1980s.
    "The youngest we (now) have is 4-years old," Shirley said, adding that the homes can take in youths as old as 18 years, and continue to house them if they move on to higher education courses in colleges or technical schools.
    While the homes have cared for as much as many as 100 children, Shirley said that now a total of 50 youths are housed in the five programs.
    Shirley said that in general, the children are fatherless and many have mothers who are addicted to drugs.
    He said all of the youth homes have house parents, a resident director, and a social services director.
    "One thing they're learning is structure in their life," Shirley said.
    In addition to chores after school, Shirley said that the boys and girls in the homes learn to accept authority, hygiene measures, and manners.
    "They also teach them strong moral values," Shirley said, adding that spiritual matters also come into play.
    Shirley said that there are many youths who have benefitted from the program.
    One such young person, he said, was a girl who was taken in at Cherokee Estate who was a junior in high school. She had been through seven different foster families.
    That student, after joining at Cherokee Estate, went on to study nursing, Shirley said.
    Shirley said the youth homes are funded through donations and fundraising events by sheriff's offices across the state.
    "All 159 sheriffs work to keep the doors open," Shirley said.
    He said knowing that his grandfather was involved in getting the program up and running made it special that he was appointed.
    "I never dreamed that I would be president,"Shirley said. "For me, being president (of the youth homes) means more than anything because I enjoy helping people and seeing the difference it makes."