When Community Savings Bank of Bethel gifted a foreclosed 15-acre ranch to Empower Youth, bank CEO John Essen explained, “we could be a gateway to the reducing poverty issue not only in Bethel but in the entire Southwest area. We’re not just feeding people. We’re really trying to change lives.” This was quoted in Sheila Vilvens’ article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Bank gifts horse farm to Empower Youth”, April 24, 2017.
The EY Ranch, as it has come to be called, is the site of our project SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing and the site of an enormous community effort to revitalize the expansive property.
Although we had read about the progress of the ranch through Facebook and our emails with Empower Youth founders Lori and Scott Conley, we were eager to see the property for ourselves.
One of our first tasks when we arrived in Bethel was to meet with Lori and Scott and tour the ranch. Their warm welcome was encouraging, as we had just packed up our lives in New York and moved out to rural Ohio with a lot of ideas but no definitive plans. Walking through the farm’s outbuildings, we could see an immense potential, but making this place a functioning center of community healing would require a nearly overwhelming amount of work. While Lori and Scott listed all the projects in progress and those still to come, we noticed exhaustion in their faces – but more noticeable were the gratitude and excitement we saw there, too.
Lori and Scott explained how far they had come with the help of community members, local businesses, and hard-working students. They had already carted out three dumpsters’ worth of garbage and burned just as much in the fields behind the barnyard.
We left feeling energized, overwhelmed, and moved by such feats of generosity.