By Reggie Ellis

Like many couples, Dan and Julie Baas were able to purchase their dream home in March with the hopes of starting a family. The only differences are they won't be living in the home and will help raise six children who are not their own.

At the end of this month, the couple will open the five-bedroom home at 508 S. Waldo St. Exeter, to six emotionally disturbed and sexually abused children as the Carousel Outreach group home. The Christian-based program takes young boys who have had problems fitting into a foster home or have had behavioral problems at juvenile hall, and offers them therapy, anger management and social skills training during an 18-month period.

"It seems like everyone else has given up on them," Julie said. "We don't have any children of our own, but these kids will be like a family."

The program is the first for troubled children ages 7-11 in Tulare County. While there are many group homes for adolescents 12-18, there are few for younger children in the Central Valley. "Many people think these kids are harder to work with because of the age," Julie said. "But if we get them younger, we have a better chance of helping them find their place in society."

Both Julie and Dan have a background in working with children and troubled children. Julie, currently substitute teaching in Exeter, has a master's in social work and has worked with children 11-17 years old at Grace Home in Visalia and Youth Care in Seattle, Wash. Dan, a kindergarten teacher at Strathmore Elementary, has a master's in education and worked at Ryther Child Center in Seattle.

"It felt like a calling to work with these kids," Julie said."It seems it's what God wants us to do."

Julie said she and Dan wanted to open their own group home because past employers did not put an emphasis on building relationships with the kids. "We didn't feel like they were always putting kids first and they didn't even treat staff like they were close to second." Julie said Carousel is different because staff recommendations and suggestions will be heard by the administrator and the CEO, Julie and Dan, and there will be more activities for the boys. "Kids get into trouble when they get bored. Keeping them active is a big part of the program. And activities can open them up to so many experiences. What if horseback riding could have turned a child's life around and we had never tried it."

The themes in the rooms are superheros, characters who have all overcome obstacles or faced their fears. One room is spun with Spiderman, another is decked out in Superman and the master bedroom is cloaked in Batman. Not all of the rooms are completely furnished, so Carousel is looking for a few items including: four dressers, kitchen supplies, clothes, toys and arts and crafts. Carousel is also looking for some hometown heroes to be mentors to the boys. Julie said she is trying to find local male mentors for the boys to show them that there are positive male role models in their lives.

"Then there is our Father, who we teach loves you no matter what," said the member of Family Worship Center in Exeter. "Christian faith is a key element in the program."

Since they are relatively new in town, Julie said she would like to add two to three local people to its board of directors, which currently has three people. "We are looking for people that bring something to the table. Someone that can provide some expertise or understanding to what we do here

In order to take field trips and take the boys to activities, Carousel is asking for two vehicle donations, which are tax deductible when donated to non-profits. Julie said they need a seven- to eight-passenger van and a four-door car. Carousel is also looking for staff to work with the boys. Bachelor's degrees and experience with children are preferred.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a lot more to raise six. In order to finish furnishing the house and provide activities for the boys, Carousel will be holding a dinner and auction fund-raiser at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 at the Exeter Church of God, located at 248 W. Chestnut St. The dinner will be catered and donated by Fugazzis California Bistro in Visalia. Tickets are $15 each and are sold at Inspirations in Laser, 116 N. E St., and the Wildflower Cafe, 121 S. E St., in Exeter. All auction items and sponsorship money must be received by Aug. 12. Donations may be made to Julie Baas, 508 S. Walso Ave., Exeter, CA 93221. For more information call 592-3462.

"We need to look beyond the deeds to the needs," Julie said. "Here the boys will learn to interact with each other and adults. If they don't make it here, there aren't many options left."

Start typing and press Enter to search