EV ranch provides guidance to young men, brings Gilbert Days back home – East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

As the bleachers next to the arena are raised at Welcome Home Ranch, it signals the beginning of not only a new era for the farm at Val Vista …

via EV ranch provides guidance to young men, brings Gilbert Days back home – East Valley Tribune: Gilbert.

Welcome Home Ranch







[Tim Hacker/ Tribune]

Welcome Home Ranch’s Mike Catanzaro,left, and Gavin Wharton feed a goat Monday, June 10, 2013.

[Tim Hacker/ Tribune]

Welcome Home Ranch photos




Gilbert Days 2013

Events: Pony Express Ride — Nov. 15-16;

Gilbert Days Rodeo/Lil Dudes Rodeo — Nov. 22-24;

Gilbert Days Parade — Nov. 23;

Rodeo Dance — Nov. 23

Location: Rodeo will take place at Welcome Home Ranch, 26601 S. Val Vista Drive, Gilbert


Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 5:12 am

By Stacie Spring, Tribune | 0 comments

As the bleachers next to the arena are raised at Welcome Home Ranch, it signals the beginning of not only a new era for the farm at Val Vista Drive and Hunt Highway, but a new beginning for the long-standing East Valley tradition that is Gilbert Days.

Fittingly, the move to Welcome Home Ranch does just that — welcoming the popular rodeo portion of Gilbert days back into Gilbert itself.

The announcement in spring this ranch would be the event’s new home also coincides with a renewal for the ranch, too. The facility was sold via short sale in June 2012 to the John Volken Foundation.

The ranch, formerly known as Marley Farms, still houses an equestrian boarding facility and on-site feed store.

While the petting zoo is gone, the arenas in place are prime for equestrian events and need little adaptation for other gatherings — like the upcoming November Gilbert Days rodeo.

“We’re thrilled to see Gilbert Days come back to Gilbert,” said Nicole Bonilla, a Welcome Home Ranch board member. “Gilbert Days brings families and neighbors together and serves the community.”

The large community event ties perfectly into Welcome Home’s new purpose — to be a positive force the community while also teaching life skills to young men, many of whom are recovering addicts, she said.

“They’re not called clients or patients,” said Carson Brown, Welcome Home Ranch vice chairman. “They are a family and they call each other brother.”

Brown is referring to students enrolled in the ranch’s “Welcome Home Life Skills Academy.” The mission of the new academy is more than a rehabilitation facility — and definitely not a detox facility or a halfway house, Brown said, emphasizing the “life skills” portion of the Academy’s mission.

Welcome Home boasts a no-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol and uses a peer-to-peer counseling format.

“They learn how to work, how to live, and, for the first time for many of them, how to solve problems in life,” Brown said.

The farm houses about 100 horses and two llamas. The students also take care of the two Berkshire pigs, the two goats with six kids, 150 chickens and four turkeys.

All of the young men will become both a caretaker and an expert on their assigned animal, including milking the goats and collecting the chicken and turkey eggs.

“We use ‘each one, teach one’,” said Gavin Wharton, 23, a student in the program. “We get on-the-job training for life. It’s a hybrid between a men’s finishing school and a military camp.”

As more young men arrive at the ranch, they’ll learn from a “brother” who came there before them. But the young men learn more than tangible skills, they also learn the value of hard work, responsibility and patience, Wharton said.

“Everything we do we do with a purpose,” Wharton said, who has been part of the program for 19 months.

A stay at the ranch requires a two-year commitment, something that addicts often commit to if they’re not ready for it, said program director Josh Smith, 22.

“You don’t come in if you don’t stay for a minimum of two years or until you graduate from the program,” explained Welcome Home Ranch board chairman Don Stapley.

“As an addict, you can’t even think more than one day at a time,” Smith said. “It takes a lot to commit to two years.”

If you don’t want to recover, it’s easy to know what to say to a counselor, Smith added. But with peer mentors and counseling, students are met head-on by others who know and have used the same tactics.

“I know what to say, but with another addict, you can’t ‘con a con,’” Smith said.

It also reminds them of where they’ve come from and how far they’ve come.

“You’re always moving forward,” he said. “As time goes on and new guys come in, it reminds you of where you where you were or worse.”

Since the farm’s purchase, they’ve completely remodeled the house that used to shelter the dogs, all the way down to the studs; neighbors have helped fix the irrigation system and plant the fields; and the men have built the “Taj Majal” of chicken coops.

But that’s just the beginning of the plans for the farm. Eventually, they hope to have about 30 students at the facility, learning and teaching one another.

Perhaps one of Welcome Home’s best success stories comes from its young program director.

“I came from a regular family,” Smith said.

In high school he started to smoke marijuana, like many young people.

“I took some business classes in high school and I realized that if I sold weed, I could smoke for free,” he said.

Eventually, it led to selling more than pot — including cocaine and ecstasy.

“Crime is just a part of the life,” he said. “Then I started using heroin, injecting it intravenously. And then I started losing everything, my money and my relationships.”

It was after the deaths of a couple friends to overdose, and after another close friend went to prison, that Smith realized that he needed to change his life, .

Smith first ended up in rehab on Feb. 28, 2010.

After moving in with his grandparents following a 45-day rehab program, he found himself slipping back into his old ways.

His grandmother’s best friend since childhood is Brown’s mother and she suggested the Welcome Home program.

“I knew I needed to be there,” he said of Welcome Home. “Two years? I said that’s not long enough, give me three.”

After successfully completing the program, he moved back to Utah.

“He started setting sales records at Kohl’s,” Stapley said. “He was hand-picked by John (Volken) to lead the program here.”

The John Volken Foundation, a non-profit, which operates the ranch, has two established similar programs in Seattle and Vancouver. It was founded by the Canadian entrepreneur, John Volken, a German immigrant who created his wealth from a chain of furniture stores in the Pacific Northwest.

An orphan himself in Germany as a child, after selling his business, he put nearly all his fortune into the foundation which also supports a large number of orphanages in Africa, as well as the Welcome Home program.

For more information about the program, visit

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Gilbert History – Clement’s Garage

Categories: AZ, Clement's Garage, Gilbert, History | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Former Hay Capital of the World – Ranked #28 in U.S. – Gilbert, Arizona

 CNN Money Magazine, August 2008, ranked Gilbert Arizona the 28th Best Place to Live in the United States.
28. Gilbert, AZ


Top 100 rank: 28

Population: 191,500

In the early 1900s, Gilbert was known  as the Hay Capital of the World. Today it is a bustling small city and  the fastest-growing town in Arizona in the last decade.

New  development projects include the Freestone Recreation Center, a new  regional mall called SanTan Village, and a planned Mormon temple.

Retaining  the charm of the old days, the town’s Heritage District remains a  quaint and historic heart of the community. And the schools are top  notch.


Under my leadership, we were able to achieve an unbelievable explosion of growth and prosperity.  I believe that Gilbert has the potential to be on the verge of a second explosion.  As Mayor again, I will provide strong, pragmatic leadership to restore Gilbert to its rightful place as a municipal leader in the great State of Arizona.

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Bisbee’s Copper Queen Hotel: Lunch and legends

On our road trip back to Santa Fe from Tucson, we decided to go the scenic route and ended up in historic Bisbee just in time for lunch. It was a sunny day and so we decided to look for a place to have lunch outdoors. After all, once we returned to Santa Fe, it would be months before we could dine al fresco again.

Copper Queen Hotel
There’s nothing better than lunch at the hotel which once was a gathering place in the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco (in rural southern Arizona). Completed in 1902, the Copper Queen Hotel was Bisbee’s upscale hotel for dignitaries and investors. It still has an air of elegance with beautiful stained glass windows, elegant dining room, and overstuffed Victorian furniture in the lobby.

Originally, the hotel boasted 73 rooms with shared baths at the end of the hall on each floor. While retaining Victorian charm, the hotel now has fewer rooms but, of course, each room has a private bath.

Take a peek into the rich wood saloon and you’ll be taken back to the days of mining executives who enjoyed the luxury and wood tones of the bar. Of interest in the saloon is the 100+ year old, nearly life size, portrait of Lillie Langtry. Lillie was a stage actress from Jersey, England around the turn of the century. Legend has it that she was the love interest of Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be King Edward VII. She was Judge Roy Bean of Texas’ lady love, but he never met her.

We enjoyed lunch on the veranda overlooking the narrow street. Lavender tour jeeps appeared to pick up customers, mining trucks drove by and the sun warmed us. We enjoyed sandwiches. The waiter had recommended the Momma’s Mango Chutney chicken salad sandwich and it was excellent. The sandwich consisted of grilled chicken breast folded into a mixture of mango chutney, chopped celery and almonds served on a croissant. My turkey and pepper sandwhich wasn’t quite as memorable. But what the heck, it was a glorious place for a break from the road trip.

Since the Copper Queen Hotel is just steps away from the main street, we strolled old Bisbee after lunch enjoying the history, the shops and the rambling streets. It was an excellent lunch stop as well as a great place for a several-day getaway.

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