with the Dowdles in May 2011. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Crouse had previously ended up in the hospi- tal and then a group home.“I didn’t know how to han- dle people. I was a lovable, caring person, but I didn’t rust people,” Crouse says. “Ginger and Steve helped me work on a lot of things,” he says, “and they actually cared. They also helped me learn how to have fun.” Crouse recently moved back home with his parents and five brothers. It’s an outcome the Dowdles aim for whenever possible. “Fostering isn’t us versus them. You’re trying to help everyone involved,” Dowdle says. “We give parents time to get their lives calm, so they’re able to get back on track. If the parents need to learn some skills or need sub- stance abuse help, you’re helping them by being a foster parent to their child during that time.” Not all the boys are going home, though. Some are in the custody of the state because of abuse or neglect. Others can no longer live with their families be- cause of their behavioral issues. The Dowdles obtained a special group home license that entitles them to take in children who have trouble with authority or mental illness. To make the most of the boys’ experience, the Dowdles built a workshop on their property where Steve teaches mechanics and carpentry skills. Together, they also teach the boys every- day skills, such as cooking, doing
laundry, managing money, and taking responsibility for
homework and chores.
“Sometimes [the kids] don’t want the changes necessary in their lives; other times they welcome them,”
Dowdle says. In 2009, the Dowdles adopted t wo brothers, now ages 16 and 18. The boys’ biological mother
had passed away and their father, who was addicted to
drugs, didn’t provide supervision or food and eventually went to jail. The older of the two boys is now in his
first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Seeing these kids change helps me know that the Lord
brought them here,” Dowdle says. The couple, who
have t wo adult children from Steve’s first marriage, are
now in the process of adopting another boy.
Even while caring for up to six additional boys at a
time, the Dowdles wanted to do more, and their large
ranch provided them with room to grow. So in 2007 the
couple launched a summer camp for local youth. Their
goal: to provide children with a safe, constructive place
to be while learning about nature, farm animals, and
team building. The 50 or so weekly campers also enjoy
kayaking, fishing, and arts and crafts. The camp is run with the help of 20 sta;, many of whom are college
students home for the summer. Admission is on a slid-
ing scale, and the Dowdles o;er scholarships and free
tuition to foster children and kids from low-income
families. More than 100 children receive free or re-
duced rates each summer.
Whether it’s for foster
kids, campers, or young
adults who’ve aged
out of foster care, the
Dowdles o;er space,
and the motivation, to
grow and learn.