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White Horse Youth Ranch reaches out to underprivileged youth

Though it was the railroad that made Las Vegas a city, horses and ranches had already made it a community. White Horse Youth Ranch is trying to forge a little more community through its Diamonds in the Rough program.

The program connects underprivileged children with horses and adults who can teach them about horses.

“We want them to learn all about horsemanship and not just how to ride,” said Peggy Paullin, executive director of White Horse Youth Ranch, known to most as WHY Ranch. “They get to interact with horses and are mentored by someone who is investing in them emotionally.”

WHY Ranch became a nonprofit in 2007. The faith-based but nondenominational ranch was founded by Amy Meyer , granddaughter of the founders of the Paul E. and Helen S. Meyer foundation, a local faith-based charity that funds educational programs

The Diamonds in the Rough program is in its third year, and Paullin is proud of how far the group has come and is looking forward to where it’s going, although for the moment it doesn’t have a permanent home, despite a $3.1 million ranch near Sunset Park that was gifted to the organization.

The property was purchased by the Meyer Foundation and donated to WHY Ranch to provide a place to stable horses for the ranch and operate the program. The organization was never able to achieve that goal due to what Paullin called “neighborhood resistance.”

“The neighbors had a misconception about our target group of children we planned to help there,” Paullin said. “They had a preconceived notion that we were going to bring juvenile delinquents from inner-city detention facilities. This is not at all what we had in mind.”

The group’s plan was to provide an after-school program for children.

“The kids would be brought to the program by their parents,” Paullin said. “We hoped to offer hour long sessions for several groups.”

Because of the current real estate crisis, the organization has seen the value of the property plummet to around $1 million. Organizers are resigned that they may never being able to use the property for the originally donated purpose, barring several key neighborhood opponents moving away.

“Now we hold the property with huge annual expenses,” Paullin said. We had it on the market for a while, and we’re currently leasing it and hoping the market changes soon. We’re looking for a property that we can use and call home.”

For the time being, WHY Ranch activities are offered at Cowboy Trail Rides at Red Rock Canyon. The company is lending the organization 30 horses and staff, including owner Big Jim Sage’s daughter, Jasmin Sage, who operates as WHY Ranch’s program director on the site.

“They have about 100 horses out there, and they’re all great horses for the kids,” Paullin said. “They’ve been terrific out there to us.”

The program is underwritten by donors, so there’s no cost to the kids or their families. Participants need to be between 8 and 17, and information about applying is available on the organization’s website, whyranch.org. The organization also is looking for financial partners to underwrite the program and volunteers.

Although WHY Ranch has been unable to win over its immediate neighbors, it recently received support from Henderson-based Webgistix Corp . The online fulfillment company started in upstate New York and opened a West Coast office in Las Vegas three years ago to shorten shipping times. It has since shifted its headquarters here and is looking to be neighborly by helping local charities.

“One of the 350 or so companies we ship merchandise for is Tennessee-based A3, which handles Pro Rodeo Gear and is affiliated with the National Finals Rodeo,” said Webgistix CEO Joseph DiSorbo. “They had leftover merchandise from last year’s NFR and were looking for a way to contribute to charity, and we suggested WHY Ranch.”

On July 13, DiSorbo and representatives from Pro Rodeo Gear met with the kids and staff members of WHY Ranch at Cowboy Trail Rides.

“We were happy to donate our time, labor, merchandise and materials,” DiSorbo said. “They told us that a lot of the kids didn’t even have jackets for the winter, so we were glad we’d brought them along.”

As improbable a donation as fleece jackets might seem when the thermometer is hitting triple digits, the kids were glad to get them and other clothing as well as the attention of the company representatives.

“It’s great for the kids to get out of the urban environment and out to a more urban-based setting.” Paullin said. “Some of the kids have been bullied or are originally from abusive homes. Some are being raised by terminally ill single parents.”

The group meets on Saturdays but is currently on its summer hiatus . The program resumes Sept. 10, and organizers are currently working on enrollment through Aug. 15.

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who was raised around horses and still participates in rodeo events, wholeheartedly agrees with the concept of bringing kids and horses together .

“It teaches them discipline and responsibility,” Collins said. “It’s a great way for them to develop and learn how to treat animals. It teaches them how to get along and helps them learn good habits that will stay with them all their life.”

For more information about WHY Ranch, visit whyranch.org or call

Contact Sunrise and Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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