Ranch offers fun opportunity to help kids
Back in February, O&AN featured LGBT couples who are changing Nashville. One of those couples was Jason Warner and DeMarco DeCiccio, who moved to Middle Tennessee last year. This gay couple’s album Til the End of Time earned them many fans. Their first single, “Trying to Get to You,” climbed the Billboard charts and their second single, “This is Love,” won “Music Video of the Year” at the 2006 MTV LOGO Awards.
In their fourteen years together, the two have actively engaged the LGBT communities they have been a part of. Jason and DeMarco have performed at numerous high profile events, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Awards in Los Angeles, the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Annual Gala in Denver, and the 2006 HRC Gala at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. They were also part of the HRC’s benefit album, Love Rocks, alongside Christina Aguilera, P!nk, and the Dixie Chicks.
In 2010, they legally married, and at the same time developed a new focus for their social activism. That same year, the couple founded a non-profit, S.A.F.E., and opened a drop-in center for homeless LGBT youth that would serve over 400 clients in less than eight months.
Jason and DeMarco’s family grew with the birth of twin sons, Mason and Noah, through surrogacy in 2011, and the addition of children to their family opened their eyes to the wider problem facing children and youth in America. While S.A.F.E. had focused on at-risk LGBT youth, the couple began to see that problems for youth begin much earlier, and began to put more emphasis on working with children.
Jason explained that the relocation to Tennessee would also bring a shift, “In relocating [to Middle Tennessee], rather than opening another drop-in center, we feel we can better serve our youth and the community by helping to prevent them from being homeless to begin with.”
“When we started the training classes to become a foster placement,” Jason added, “we really started because we wanted to help young adults who were aging out of foster care but we just had no idea how many kids are in the system…. People don’t want to acknowledge the problem because once you do, how can you not want to do something about it?”
Having already purchased a six acre ranch in Leipers Fork that they have named ‘GratiDude Ranch’, Jason explained that, “When we saw this issue, and how the experience of coming out to the ranch just transforms people, deMarco and I imagined what it must be like for kids to be pulled from their homes and put somewhere strange. We thought about what a beautiful place this could be for them. We want this to be a healing place for kids to stay until they find a family member or a long-term placement.”
The ranch also hosts a number of events that help fund the non-profit. We do farm to table dinners—deMarco is a really really amazing cook and everything is farm or locally produced—and we do birthdays. We call them ‘country birthday bashes.’ The birthday party is a four-hour rental, and the kids come out and have a great time with the animals. We’ve hosted a couple of weddings… It all benefits S.A.F.E. The only thing we really push, though, is the Foster a Farm Pet.”
Foster a Farm Pet isn’t quite what it sounds like, though. “Some people think it literally means to take home an animal and foster it,” Jason said. In reality families choose one of the farm’s animals to foster on site, for a monthly donation, which helps support S.A.F.E. and its mission. “It’s really for people who don’t have the time or space to foster a farm animal—the animals stay here, and you just have the pleasure of coming out to see it with your kids. Your kids can say they have a pet pig or goat, which they love.” Right now, families that commit to a year and pay up front get two months free, and along with that a free birthday party on the ranch.
In order to raise awareness about the Foster a Farm Pet program, the ranch is hosting a fall event on Sunday, November 1, 2015, where families can come enjoy a harvest hoedown, including hay rides, hot chocolate, a bon fire and smores. “The main intention of the event,” Jason said, “is obviously for people to have a good time but also to come meet the animals, and hopefully choose one to foster. The intention is to hopefully have several foster families by the end of the event.”
It’s fitting for S.A.F.E. to use a program fostering farm animals to raise much needed funds to assist foster kids. Most of the organization’s money comes from private donors, many of whom are recruited or inspired by the couple during their regular touring schedule. But funds raised by the ranch’s programs are still essential to S.A.F.E.’s mission.
In the long run, Jason and DeMarco hope that their non-profit will be able to work with the Department of Children Services (DCS) to help connect affirming foster parents with LGBTQ foster youth, and to provide DCS with S.A.F.E. (Safe, Affirming, Family Environment) families for these LGBTQ youth. Keeping with the organization’s roots, they are also still exploring possible housing solutions for youth transitioning out of foster care.
So if heading out to the country with your family to play with farm animals and enjoy an old-fashioned day on the farm, while also helping fund children’s services, sounds like your idea of a good day, mark November 1, 2015, on your calendar and head out to the Gratidude Ranch.
For more information about the Foster a Farm Pet program or the fall event, visit www.fosterafarmpet.org.