Steve Finn, a former Atlanta police officer, traded in his badge to invest in the lives of young men in difficult situations through Christian education. After a few years as house parents in an Atlanta-area boys home, he and his wife, a former social worker, sought to replicate that ministry where the need was the greatest, leading them to start a Christian school in West Virginia.
The Finns started Chestnut Mountain Ranch in 2008. The nationally accredited school and boys home, located in Morgantown, WV, has enjoyed 13 years of success.
The school enrolls boys ages 11-15 through an application process, including referrals from West Virginia Family Court. According to the website, the students usually have “mild to moderate academic, emotional and/or behavioral problems.” Finn says, “The boys that we get have faced a lot of challenges; they didn’t come here just to get their grades up. They came here because of anger issues, because of broken families. Many of our children are in the foster system.”
The program offers much more than just academics. The school integrates three components: the school, Christian discipleship and counseling, and ‘home-style’ dorm life. The students also benefit from outdoor activities, including hiking and fishing on the 300-acre property. The boys also have the opportunity to work and interact with the public through the Ranch Community Store and Ranch Quick Lube.
Pic of the day… the annual trout rodeo as the boys enjoy moving the trout from the warming waters of the ponds into the cool deep holes within the stream that borders the Ranch.Posted by Chestnut Mountain Ranch on Thursday, June 10, 2021
The school’s stories of student impact abound. In one notable example, Anthony, whose parents had both suffered from addiction, excelled in the Chestnut Mountain program. His hard work earned the reward of two trips to the White House, where he got to attend a Bible study in former Vice President Mike Pence’s office. However, upon returning home from the program, his mother left him at Chestnut Mountain, relinquishing her parental responsibilities. The Finns saw the devastating situation as an opportunity to show the love of God to Anthony, and they adopted him into their own family.
Finn, who continues to serve as the school’s Executive Director, makes it clear that the journey has been no cakewalk. After the initial spark, a lot of work was required to bring the vision into reality, especially fundraising. He recounts, “I was a cop…I had no fundraising background.”
When they started the school, the Finns took a leap of faith and moved to West Virginia with just enough money to live for 12 months. For most of that time, they had no evidence that any money would come in. “Many storms have come, and fundraising in West Virginia has been nothing short of challenging,” Finn writes on the Chestnut Mountain Ranch website.
They committed to building the school and homes debt-free, and they were down to their last $25 before things began to move in the right direction. The school started receiving funds from unexpected sources, including professional football players from the Atlanta Falcons, as well as area churches. Then someone who saw the potential in the school sold them the land they needed. And after years of building and pushing forward, the 300-acre ranch has three boys dorms completed with plans for four more.
The ranch continues to develop, with work on a new chapel nearly finished. Finn plans on expanding the capacity of the school to forty-nine students soon. “After years of preparing, planning, and praying, we are witnessing the fruit of our labor,” he said.