I met up with former Ranch youth Joseph Meays at the Regina farmer’s market. Joseph is the owner of Integrity Entertainment and is an experienced face painter and balloon artist. He is also married with two children ages 6 and 2. He shared some memories of his time as a Ranch Ehrlo youth.
Where are you from?
What year did you go to the Ranch?
1997, I was 15 years old. I was at Mitchell House on the Pilot Butte campus and Woodward in Regina. I left in 1999, 3 weeks before I turned 18.
What brought you to the Ranch?
I had anger problems, problems with authority, drug and alcohol problems too.
What were your first thoughts of the Ranch?
It was kind of scary. Different. I wasn’t sure what to expect and it was difficult because for the first little while I wasn’t allowed to see my family and such. That was kind of hard. But the staff was pretty awesome. Tracey Arseneau was there and Malcolm Neill was the unit manager.
What was the day-to-day activity like?
It was regimented. Lights on, eat breakfast, and then off to Schaller (School).Everything was very scheduled, structured. Which back then I hated but looking back I realize it was what I needed. Scheduling and structure was something I didn’t have before.
What about the 4 cornerstones – work, clinical treatment, education and recreation?
I went to Sheldon (Williams Collegiate) before the Ranch. It was a big difference coming to Schaller; intellectually and academically I never struggled, so going into Schaller was like going back to elementary school for me.
Other parts were great. I developed a love for floor hockey, and I found I was good at it which was nice because I never thought I was good at things like that before. And the 3 mile run. I never thought I would be able to do it but I did.
I was part of the summer work crew doing yard maintenance one year. I also went up north one summer to Norbert camp. It was incredible. One of the most amazing experiences of my life, we stayed up there 16 days and it was beautiful. That was something I loved about the Ranch, the camping trips. Absolutely my favorite part. We had the coolest trips, all over.
You became involved with Street Culture Kidz, a group that mentors and supports youth using social entrepreneurialism and positive adult role models, while at the Ranch, how did that happen?
I was at Woodward house and a few of us went AWOL one Saturday morning and I went downtown, to this park actually, and Street Culture was doing a child slave labour protest. I decided to join the protest and a news crew caught me on camera and someone from the Ranch saw. Next thing I knew, Rick Reiger came to pick me up (chuckles).
I stayed in contact with Street Culture after that. They were doing some interesting things.
What was life like after the Ranch?
I went back home to my mother. And…well, the adjustment was difficult and I didn’t do too well at first. It fact it took a few years to get everything really back together mainly because I went from being in a place where there was a lot of structure and routine and when I got home there was none. I fell into my old patterns right away and it accelerated pretty quickly.
There was also this part of me where I felt I had full freedom and I was just going to go hard and take advantage of it.
I didn’t graduate from high school until I was 23. Once I got my high school I started working with Street Culture on a part-time basis. After a while I worked for them full-time for about five years. I was part of a program called Regina Connected Youth, a partnership with Corrections and Public Safety. We would take high risk youth that were on probation, gang affiliated but not gang initiated and we would do a lot of structured programming - sports, recreational, cultural programming. We would also do a lot of assistance with getting them to appointments, legal, housing, jobs etc.
Would you say your time at the Ranch helped you prepare for the job?
Absolutely. When I took over they weren’t having weekly house meetings and I said we have to so everyone who is living in that house can sit down and talk about what they are happy about, what they aren’t happy about, etc.
And scheduling programming – the Ranch definitely helped with that. A lot of the stuff we did at the Ranch I used as ideas, like little day trips on a Saturday.
I was open about my past and about where I came from and it was a good thing because a lot of them said ‘wow you do know what it’s like and you understand.’
When did you start your own business?
I left Street Culture two years ago and got a full time job with Staples. The main reason for that was that I have a family and needed good health benefits. I decided at that time to start my business. I don’t proactively go after any functions that I know Street Culture has, just out of respect.
What sort of events do you do?
I do birthday parties, end of the year school parties and I have quite a few festivals booked this summer. I’m generally at the farmer’s market most Saturdays along with my wife who has the Purple Hippo Hatsstand.
Anything else you would like to say?
I really did enjoy my time at the Ranch. A lot of time when I was there I was like ‘grrr grr”. But looking back I think we ate really well! We ate like kings and we got to do so many cool activities that I would never have been able to do.