A Life Transformed

Young man grabs the offered hand

A Life Transformed

Jerome Schneider is a handsome young farmer full of energy and light. He is passionate about farming and ranching and while he doesn't claim to have everything figured out, he is proud of the man he has become.

Jerome's life began on a fourth-generation farm in western North Dakota. When his parents separated and divorced shortly after his birth, Jerome was caught in the middle.

"When I was three or four, my mom took off and ran with me," Jerome said. "She used me as a pawn with my dad and eventually put me in foster care."

Jerome lived in a few different foster homes before moving ack to the ranch with his dad and grandma, but he didn't know how to reconnect with his dad and said his behavior was uncontrollable.

"I didn't know how to cope with anything," he said. "So, I just bundled everything up and didn't talk about it. I talked back and wouldn't do anything my dad asked me to do. I had a quick fuse that got me in trouble."

When Jerome got to Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch at age 13, he was ready for a change.

"It was raining the first day I arrived at the Ranch. I'll never forget that day. Everyone was so friendly, and that was something I wasn't used to," Jerome said. "When you are abused and put down, you always assume you are going to get judged, but that didn't happen at the Ranch."

"I knew at the end of the day my life was going to change for the better. This was going to be a new adventure, and it was going to be rocky, but I was safe and had a place to officially kind of call home."

One of Jerome's greatest gifts is his ability to accept help when it's offered to him. When he accepted and embraced the help he received at Dakota Boys and Girls ranch, he learned an important lesson about not having to deal with everything on his own.

"I grabbed a hand when you guys offered it to me," Jerome said. "I learned to cope with my insides and not bundle everything up. I  learned it's okay to move on and not hold onto the past. I learned how to take a breath and stop fighting myself and everyone else. I learned to admit I screwed up and that saying that doesn't make me a small person."

Most importantly, Jerome learned about Jesus. He recalls Miss Martha, a spiritual life specialist when he was at the Ranch, saying, "I see you are scared. But you know, there is one person who loves you more than anything, and that's God. He will always be there for you."

Jerome said, "Miss Martha and all of you guys showed me I don't have to be afraid of believing in God or praying whenever I want. Who cares if people judge you? It's okay to pray and it's okay to know He is there."

While at the Ranch Jerome realized that the things his mother said about his dad not caring weren't true.

"My dad made the effort. He was up there visiting me every other weekend, sometimes more. Even through harvest and when he was working for someone else, he made time to come and see me," Jerome said. "The Ranch helped me see the truth about my dad. I still thank him today for making the effort to talk to me and visit me, even when I was mad at him.

Jerome is certain he'd have dropped out of school and would be in prison or dead if it wasn't for the people at the Ranch who showed him a different way to approach life.

"I didn't like reading, but Mr. Miller, the English teacher, made reading fun. I got into it and enjoyed reading adventure books," Jerome said. "You guys helped me graduate."

When Jerome completed treatment and it was time to go home, he insisted that he finish school at the Ranch. "I wanted to graduate, and I knew staying here was the only way I wouldn't drop out. I needed that one-on-one with teachers. I wanted to try to better myself and not deal with peer pressure."

Jerome's dream was to farm and ranch eventually, but when he graduated from Dakota Memorial School, the Ranch's on-campus school, he had the confidence to explore the world a bit before settling down. He received his Firefighter Type 2 certification and fought wildfires for a couple of years in Montana.

He then worked as a security guard before moving back to the farm, where he now farms with his dad and brothers and works for a neighboring farmer. "We run about 180 Red Angus and farm about 950 acres of cropland," Jerome said.

Jeromd said he is still overcoming a short fuse and that some days it gets the best of him.

"Sometimes I think I know everything and start telling people what to do," Jerome said. "But, I'm a firm believer in maturity. The older I get, the easier it is to manage my temper and to let people tell me what to do. Most days, I can let things go."

"At the Ranch, I learned it's okay to have good days and bad days, and how you handle the bad days is what really counts at the end."

Jerome wants to help kids, at the Ranch and elsewhere, by sharing his experiences.

"Everyone deserves to know the good that can come from being at the Ranch and from letting people help you," he said. "And thank you from the bottom of my heart."

This article was originally published in Ranch Voice: Winter 2023.

Read more stories like this and explore other issues of Ranch Voice here.

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