SCOTTSDALE — Nestled in a quiet Scottsdale neighborhood is Girls Ranch, a residential group home that has become an environment of love and support for pregnant and parenting teens.
Five moms and five babies currently call this home, with day care provided while the young moms — ages 12 to 18 — are at school or work. A large backyard offers opportunities for gardening, painting, roasting marshmallows or just enjoying nature, and staff here work to give these young women something they desperately need – a support system.
Girls Ranch is part of Florence Crittenton — an organization to help girls in need and among the oldest nonprofits (established in 1896) in Arizona. The group home could house up to 15 moms, and the nonprofit owns a Phoenix home that could also be put into use, but finding employees and volunteers is a struggle.
“We’ve done a lot to increase a lot of things as far as salaries go, but at the same time, there’s no applicants coming in,” said Amy Holstein, Arizona director of Florence Crittenton. “It’s hard to keep the staffing, and a lot of the staff move around. It’s also a really hard job.”
“These are kids who have been through a lot of trauma,” Holstein added. “They’ve been exposed to a lot of things, and it’s really hard for staff to see some of the things that they’ve gone through.”
Girls Ranch was established in 1964 to support young moms by providing life and parenting skills. Florence Crittenton also runs a behavioral health residential facility in Phoenix to support girls with mental health needs. Holstein said the organization would like to help more young mothers, and that the problem isn’t funding.
A portion of Girls Ranch’s funding comes from contracts placing youth — many from Arizona’s foster care system — in their care. A large part of their funding comes from grants and community donations.
“Our mission at Florence Crittenton is really to provide safety, hope and opportunity,” Holstein said. “The single greatest thing that we’re able to provide is a safe place for these youth, the moms and their babies.”
Girls Ranch emphasizes the importance of structure and routine in the girls’ lives. It reinforces going to school and entering the workforce, and offers day care services for the girls whenever they need it. Normally, there are two staff members and three shifts throughout the day: a morning, afternoon and overnight, with staff changing out throughout these shifts.
“We really work on ensuring that we have trauma-informed practices and care that are delivered to create that safe space that they need to simply be a teenager while they’re also learning through their education and mentorship on parenting,” Holstein said. “We have the staff there to support them and guide them, just like a mom or dad would in a home.”
Holstein said young moms who turn 18 can opt to stay at Girls Ranch until age 21 by signing a voluntary agreement, meaning they’ll be put under case management again and will retain the same benefits as youth under age 18. However, these young women are required to attend school, work or be working towards a GED certificate.
Holstein, who first started working with Florence Crittenton in 2021, joined when it was merging with Chicanos por La Causa, which Holstein says is one of the largest community development corporations in the nation.
She fell in love with Florence Crittenton’s passion for its mission and its employees and found it inspiring being surrounded by people who are passionate about making a difference, as well as the young mothers she works with.
“They really do want to be independent. They want to go out and do things, but they’re afraid to because they haven’t had that before. It’s new,” Holstein said. “These girls are doing things as young moms with very little support in the community, so it’s been beautiful to see them come in and feel empowered to feel confident in themselves to be successful.”
Finding volunteers is another ongoing challenge.
“Everyone is so maxed out in their work and how much work they’re doing that they just don’t have much more to give to the community, so even finding volunteers to help with stuff has been really hard,” Holstein said.
A 2021 survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau and AmeriCorps said the rate of formal volunteering through organizations fell almost 7 percentage points during the pandemic, from 30% in 2019 to 23.2% in 2021.
Pat Walker, a behavioral health technician for Girls Ranch, has been working with the organization for six years. She first became involved while looking for part-time work through a staffing agency. Eventually she was offered a full-time position, which she took because of her love for the kids.
Walker said many memorable moments with the girls have left a meaningful impact, but one stands out.
She recalled a young girl at the main campus who walked around the basketball court every day but would never speak. One day, the two found a connection. Both are Navajo. Remembering their conversation brought tears to Walker’s eyes.
“She says, ‘It’s my birthday, and I miss my grandma,’” Walker remembered. “I said, ‘You know, I have a song that I could share with you,’ and I started singing the birthday song in Navajo. Her heart — I could just feel it, and she just started to cry. So I gave her a side hug and said, ‘This is where you come from. Don’t ever forget it.’”