The following story appeared in the October 22 Idaho Catholic Register.
Pete Espil, front row center in vest, and his wife, Jaime, join members of the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce to cut the ribbon to mark the beginning of what will become Sacred Heart Ranch. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)
Sacred Heart Ranch will be a place of respite and healing for young women, many who are transitioning from a traumatic past.
By Gene Fadness
TWIN FALLS – The most succinct way that Pete and Jaime Thietten Espil describe their vision for Sacred Heart Ranch is “a home for someone to come back to.”
Not a residential treatment center. Not an “outpatient clinic” as one television station described it. Not a group home. Not a court-ordered treatment center. Not a halfway house or a rehab center for those battling drug or alcohol abuse. A home.
Many young adults can go home when something goes wrong, plans go awry, or time is needed to recover from a failed romance or from a trauma. They go home to recoup, refresh and restore. And, typically, loving parents give them the financial and morale-building boost to move on to that next stage.
It’s a part of growing up for many young adults, but not so, particularly for females transitioning out of foster care, out of military service, out of juvenile corrections or from dysfunctional families.
These young adult females are a largely underserved population and especially susceptible to becoming victims of sex trafficking, said, Espil, a Li-censed Clinical Social Worker who provides trauma counseling in the Magic Valley.
“Women don’t tend to fare as well if they have trauma,” Espil said. Women transitioning out of foster care or military service are especially vulnerable. “Among this age group of women from these backgrounds there is a higher incidence of unwanted pregnancy and a lack of educational opportunity,” Espil said. Twenty percent of female veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, with one in three reporting sexual trauma from a trusted fellow soldier or sailor.
Much of the counseling Espil does since completing his graduate studies is in group-settings with women suffering from these and other types of trauma.
“I’ve worked with teens and young adults forever,” said Espil, who for 13 years served in full-time ministry as a youth and campus minister. “We’re not paying enough attention to trauma, especially sexual assault. With every other crime, cops don’t come and say, ‘Are you sure someone stole your car? Did you give them permission?’ ”
While Espil has been known in the Catholic community for his years with young adult ministry, including three years as campus minister at Idaho State University (see other story this page), Jaime, his wife, is well known as a Catholic recording artist who has released nine albums and given concerts throughout the United States, New Zealand and Canada.
In recent years, she has cut back her concert tours, due partly to Pete’s health challenges at the time. She has been teaching private voice lessons to about 20 students, while Pete has been providing trauma counseling.
Yet, both have been feeling a call to something more. “We first thought about a home for wayward boys,” Jaime said. “After we settled back in Twin Falls and the pandemic hit, we begin to think about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. We felt like we were not doing all we were put on this earth to do.”
It was clear to them that there is a need to serve young women who need a place to call home. At Sacred Heart Ranch, they will get housing and food – free of charge. But, as important, they will get emotional support and learn to hone life skills as basic as budgeting, cooking, changing a tire, filling out job applications, getting connected to schools or professional counselors – whatever needs they have to move on with life. They will live there for 90-days at a time, with an option to extend up to 12 months as needed.
The Espils, who love the outdoors and horseback riding, want to provide a 10-acre ranch setting that they believe will become a therapeutic outlet for work, play and general confidence-building. For many young Idahoans, returning home means returning to a farm or a ranch.
Just where that farm or ranch will be is yet to be determined. The two have looked at properties in the Magic Valley on which to build a home for up to six residents and themselves.
The small number of residents is intentional. “We believe that the security of a supportive home life based on a family model is best accomplished by hosting a small number of guests,” says the organization’s website, sacredheartranch.org. To protect the women there, both Pete and Jaime will live at the ranch as well.
It will be called Sacred Heart Ranch because of the Catholic faith of its founders, but residents will not be required to be Catholic or pressured to become part of the faith. “The reason we are doing this is faith-based,” Espil said. “Even though the programming is not faith-based, it is certainly not anti-faith, either. We will certainly encourage the young women to attend the religious services of their choosing.”
The website states, “We are not officially affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise, but we network with the local Catholic Church and its charity affiliates locally and nationally. A large number of our supporters are Catholic. Sacred Heart Ranch has a designated chaplain.”
Now the challenge is fund-raising. As of early October, Sacred Heart Ranch raised more than $200,000 from more than 200 donors in 18 states, but that is only about 10 percent of what the Espils estimate will be a $2.3 million need. “We need that much to be open and sustainable for at least two years,” Jaime said. “We don’t want to close it right after we open.”
Many corporate donors have ex-pressed interest, Jaime said, but don’t want to give until the organization is up and running. “But we can’t do that without the home and property, so it can be frustrating at times,” she said. The Twin Falls community has been supportive, with the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce sponsoring a ribbon-cutting for the yet unrealized property.
The non-profit recently received its first six-figure donation and another donor has pledge to match all donations up to $25,000.
Sacred Heart Ranch, which will not receive funding from any government agencies, has a board of directors including Becky Baily of the Idaho Association of Community Providers and Peter Turner, the treasurer, who like both Espils, is a convert to the Catholic faith. Turner, now retired, managed a fish business and farmed for 44 years.
Another board member is Leah York, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and a board member for the 5th Judicial District’s Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA). Board member Thomas Chambers, is senior vice president and chief financial officers for Kosmos Energy. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Notre Dame and served on the board of trustees of Notre Dame College of Ohio for seven years.
For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution, go to sacredheartranch.org or mail 148 Blue Lakes Blvd. North, No. 122, Twin Falls, ID, 83301.
“We know the need and the money to meet it are out there,” Jaime said. “God’s timing is perfect, and we trust that.”
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