Schools & Program
Visits - Feb, 1999 Issue #56
Melange (An Equestrian Center For Girls)
Steve & Karen Gage, Owners & Directors
Lon’s Visit: October 5, 1998
Sitting in their living room after dinner, the sense of safety at Royal Haven
is almost tangible. With 20 girls there at the time of my visit, and the Gage’s own four children (ages 17, 4, 3, and 2 months), it
seems there is never a dull moment. Despite the activity, the atmosphere was calm and constructive because it seemed everyone was
busy doing their part to make it work, even the little ones.
Royal Haven is based on a family home model, and it does feel like a large
family. They are on a 52-acre horse ranch with 40 horses. An important part of each girl’s lifestyle is taking care of the horses
and participating in equestrian activities, and of course doing their share around the house. That it was well structured was apparent
because everything was running smoothly while I was there including taking turns fixing meals and doing household chores, taking care
of and working with the horses, and doing their homework. Each girl went from one activity to another seemingly without being told,
which is a strong sign of how strong the structure and trust is.
All the girls at Royal Haven had been making some very poor decisions before
coming there. But the Gages do tight screening, and as a consequence, most of the girls that are accepted are ones who start with
at least some idea that they have to change something. When a girl is adamant she is right and everyone else is wrong to the point
of being disruptive, the Gages will help the parents find someplace that will work better for her. Often that is a short term wilderness
program that can help her get to an emotional place where she is capable of benefiting from the help offered at Royal Haven.
When a girl first arrives at Royal Haven, the point is emphasized she has
a fresh start. What she did in the past will stay in the past, unless she wants or needs to bring it up in order to work through what
she thinks and feels about it. With a promise of a fresh start and a very strong positive peer culture the Gages have developed, new
girls blend in very quickly. Girls adapt quickly to the atmosphere from a combination of the new girl sensing there is something positive
she can learn there that she needs and wants, from encouragement and help from the girls who have been there longer (positive peer
pressure), and a “no nonsense accepted” attitude of care and firmness on the part of the Gages and the other girls.
Horses and academics are the girls’ main activities, supplemented by mentoring
by Steve and Karen and other staff in individually helping the girls work through the emotional issues that that come up that caused
them to be enrolled there in the first place.
They have a very active equestrian program, part of which is participating
in horse shows throughout the Northwest. Royal Haven girls have been very successful at that, accumulating numerous ribbons at equestrian
shows. But, that is just the pinnacle. Behind that is the daily grooming, riding, practicing, and yes, that much needed but universally
disliked shoveling of manure. The last one tends to be reserved for girls that get into rough spots emotionally and need the time
to work with a symbol of the decisions they are making.
The other major activity is the academics. Most girls go to the Sisters
public school for their academics. The Gages not only have a good working relationship with the school system, but also are actually
licensed as an alternative school under the jurisdiction of the Sisters School District. This means that Royal Haven is regulated
by the State Education Department rules, as managed by the Sisters School District, rather than being under the rules of the State
Health and Welfare Department. The advantage of this approach is they are free from those regulations the Health and Welfare Department
have developed for radically different entities, such as group homes and residential treatment centers, while still being overseen
by the State of Oregon.
For those girls not yet able to act responsibly in a public school, there
is the option of academics at the Royal Haven home, and a few of the girls are pursuing their academics that way. As each girl’s level
of responsibility increases, they will have the chance to earn the privilege of attending the Sisters public High School with the
rest of the girls. This chance to have what is considered by the girls as a more “normal” school experience can be a powerful motivator.
Royal Haven will accept a girl who is pregnant, if she otherwise fits the
profile of the girls Steve and Karen feel they work best with. Also, Steve has had considerable experience in the past working with
death and dying issues, so Royal Haven can be a very healing experience for a girl who is struggling with losing or having lost someone
Steve and Karen are very adamant that they run a home, not a program. Actually,
they consider it a home away from home, and their main purpose is to provide healing for a hurting child, and helping bring the family
back together so far as that is possible.
(Royal Haven moved into a brand new, four-story upscale building on the
outskirts of Bend, Oregon in early December shortly after my visit. Although no longer living on the horse ranch described in my visit
report and now housed in better facilities, the girls continue their work with the horses as before, going to the horse ranch every
day for the equestrian part of their program.)
Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced
without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)