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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 2 weeks ago

FORECAST 2021: Meet Edgewood Children's Ranch's executive director

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Bruce Jordan’s first year as executive director for Edgewood Children’s Ranch wasn’t easy, but it’s where he is meant to be.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Bruce Jordan often jokes that he has been unsuccessful in trying to run away from Edgewood Children’s Ranch for 30 years.

The ranch always seems to call him back, and he understands why: If home is where the heart is, the ranch always has been his home.

Jordan, the ranch’s executive director, often is considered a “poster child” for the ranch located in Southwest Orange County. He is one of the prime success stories, a former rancher himself.

Over the years, he also has served as a cottage parent and was mentored under the tutelage of former Executive Director Stuart Eldridge, who was preparing Jordan to take over the ranch in the future following his retirement.

That day came sooner than anyone expected when Eldridge died suddenly in January 2020. 

In a year packed full of challenges and fires to put out, Jordan’s transition into the role was tumultuous. However, Jordan’s love for the ranch and its mission has kept him steady.

 

LIFE AT THE RANCH

Indiana and Bruce Jordan, right, with Bruce’s former cottage parents, Earl and Lynn Hotalen.

Jordan first step foot onto the ranch in 1985.

The ranch is a nonprofit organization that helps provide behaviorally challenged children and their families with a fresh start. It is a voluntary, live-in program, and both children and their parents have to agree they want to change. The children live in cottages with a set of cottage parents.

Jordan, the son of a single mother who worked often to support him and his sister, said he was a troubled child. His father, an alcoholic, left the family when he was 2 years old. While his mother worked, he often was left home alone to do as he pleased.

“I was pretty angry as a kid,” Jordan said. “I would fight everybody. I didn’t really get along with anybody except my friends. I had some really good friends, and then I had kids I was running with that were good friends but they weren’t the best influences. I found myself doing stuff like breaking into homes, property damage, running up and down apartment hallways and just breaking stuff. I was failing in school, and I just didn’t care.”

When he was sent to visit a juvenile detention center, Jordan’s mother knew enough was enough. She found the ranch and gave him an ultimatum — it was either the detention center or the ranch.

“I kind of fought with the staff here coming in through the intake process,” he said. “But once I got in here, the environment was just different. Earl and Lynn (Hotalen) were my cottage parents, and they’re still on staff here. Since the first week in, change started to happen for me. I didn’t get in trouble much because I was now in an environment where I had the help I needed for school.

“I had an example of a loving family,” he said. “The house parents here really care about the kids, and that’s a difference maker. I got to see for the first time how a real family setup is.”

The Hotalens remember when he first arrived at just 10 years old.

“He would get very angry,” Lynn Hotalen said. “He had this very white-blond hair, and he had some considerable anger underneath the surface. It would come out at odd times, but he was so teachable. He just wanted to learn, and he started to apply what he was learning very quickly. One thing I remember is that when we’d get together for our devotions or family meetings, the other boys very quickly would want to sit next to him. He made friends really easily. He just had a really winning personality as young as he was, and he had a sense of humor and was quick to laugh.”

Earl Hotalen used to run the physical-education classes with Eldridge, and he remembers the first time he witnessed Jordan’s anger in class.

“The day Bruce came in we were having P.E., so he came into the P.E. class, and he blew up in that class,” Earl Hotalen said. “We saw him turn red. … We hadn’t seen something like that before. But once he blew up and got over it and we calmed him down — he had to learn to be calmed down — that was huge for him. He learned to handle a lot of that.”

Jordan began soaking up everything the ranch had to offer. In his second year, Eldridge and his wife, Lisa, were Jordan’s cottage parents. He caught up in school that year, became a Christian and won the Rancher of the Year award — the highest award offered at the ranch.

“It just changed the direction of my life,” he said. “My outlook on things was different, my heart was different, just the whole direction changed.”

 

SUDDEN TRANSITIONS

Bruce Jordan and his wife, Indiana, love the ranch.

After leaving the ranch, Jordan often came back to visit. He married his wife, Indiana Jordan, and both sets of his cottage parents came to the wedding.

At one point, he and Indiana Jordan even became cottage parents for three years.

“It teaches you a lot about yourself,” Bruce Jordan said. “I got to see a different perspective. I went from being a kid in a cottage to being a house parent in the same cottage I was a kid in.”

Bruce Jordan also spent many years in the business world. Most recently, he had been a managing partner with Kymera, a marketing and advertising agency. Until last year, he and his family lived in Sanford, and he was focused on continuing to build his business.

Even after his time as a cottage parent, he would come in once a week to relieve other house parents. He and his wife even took over a cottage for part of the year when the original house parents had to leave.

He met with Eldridge often, and the two had laid out a long-term plan to prepare him for taking over as the ranch’s director upon Eldridge’s retirement.

That changed quickly in January 2020, when Eldridge died of a sudden heart attack.

“I was kind of numb,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘This is not what we planned; this is not the way that we laid this out.’ I was in shock. A lot was happening. We went from one disaster to the next. It was a lot of crazy in a short amount of time.”

As much as he loved Kymera, Bruce Jordan always knew his heart was with the ranch — and the ranch needed him more than ever.

“At the time, all that mattered was, ‘What does the ranch need? How do we survive the next week?’” he said.

His promotion to executive director came quickly, and it required the whole family — including four sons — saying goodbye to their Sanford home and moving to the ranch. Indiana Jordan said it was easy to get caught up in the whirlwind transition, but they fully trusted God’s plan.

“At the end of the day, we knew that although it wasn’t our plan and it wasn’t what we set off to do and how we thought things were going to work out for our family, it’s definitely God’s plan, and we do surrender to that and let Him work it out,” Indiana Jordan said.

“Everything happened really fast, but there wasn’t really time to breathe, because we went from Stuart’s passing to me coming in straight into COVID,” Bruce Jordan said. “It was just one thing after the other after the other.”

Not only were the ranchers gone for an extended period of time, but also it was a difficult time in terms of adjusting policies and procedures to accommodate health and safety in a pandemic. It also meant the annual picnic was delayed until December, and the ranch’s annual auction fundraiser — its largest — was canceled.

Luckily, the ranch has an army of loyal supporters.

“We have a lot of people who love the ranch and have supported us for years, and those people have stood by us and helped us through challenging times,” Bruce Jordan said. “They continue to do that, which means if they’re continuing that, we need to continue our mission no matter what craziness happens. … We’re in a much better place than we ever expected we’d be at this time through all of this stuff going on.”

 

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

At the ranch, Bruce Jordan’s days often are packed with meetings with board members, staff, case managers and donors. His job is to ensure all the cogs in the machine are running smoothly. Sometimes that includes disciplining a child.

The real fun begins after dinner, though, when he can focus on building relationships with his ranchers. It could be a soccer or basketball game, or as simple as sitting down with a child to talk about his or her day.

“I believe … if you don’t engage with a kid on a certain level, they’re not going to respond to you,” he said. “They’re not going to care what you have to tell them or that you want to help.  … It’s hard work, and our house parents and our teachers — our staff — we’re in the trenches every day battling for these kids and their futures. 

“I love this place,” he said. “This place is a part of me, and I get to take that with me to work every day with the decisions I make.” 

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

See All Articles by Danielle

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