After two decades with the home for at-risk children, she is joining her husband in retirement.
Joan Bailey didn’t intend to stay more than 20 years as an employee with the Edgewood Children’s Ranch, but somehow that’s what happened. She had already been a ranch volunteer for eight years before she was hired as a grant writer. She then slowly took on more responsibilities through the years, ultimately handling fundraising, human resources, community relations, insurance and accounting.
But, after two decades, she has decided it is time to retire. She will leave her position at the end of the school year and exchange her work equipment for books, gardening tools and outdoor activities. She would like to join a garden club.
“It’s the longest I’ve worked anywhere, and I haven’t had that many jobs,” Bailey said. “My husband, Mack, and I had a business, and I figured out I’ve worked longer here than even I worked there.”
She started her job at Edgewood at the end of August 2001. She said she can always remember the year she was hired because two weeks later, 9/11 happened.
“We didn’t have internet,” she said of the ranch. “My daughter called me, and we went up to a trailer to watch it on a TV.”
The children’s ranch is located off Old Winter Garden Road in Orlando and has relied on grants and other outside funding from local organizations —not government money — to operate for almost 56 years.
Fundraiser are an important part of the equation, too, and Bailey has been heavily involved in the annual golf tournament, picnic and fall fundraisers.
Her initial connection with the ranch was through the Windermere Rotary Club. Edgewood was putting together a golf tournament, and Bailey was recruited to assist once staff learned her daughter was on the high school golf team. She would go on to volunteer at Edgewood for eight years before being offered a paid position.
“I came out of the corporate world,” she said. “My position was eliminated in the corporate world. (A few months later), Gaby (Acks, former development director) called me and asked, ‘Aren’t you tired of pulling weeds?’”
Bailey has treasured her employment at Edgewood Children’s Ranch.
“It’s very fulfilling, and it’s so diverse,” she said. “It’s totally different. Unless you work in the nonprofit world, it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen.”
Her work as a grant writer changed as society did.
“Grant writing went away as grant money was harder to get,” she said. “It’s fizzled out to probably 20 grants a year.”
Big organizations such as United Way, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando were once big monetary supporters but no longer provide funding to Edgewood. However, local donors continue their support and have been amazing, she said.
She and events manager Kimberly Vinson are frequently out in the community looking to bring other donors aboard to financially support the ranch.
“And we don’t take any government funding, so we don’t apply for any federal, state — none of those grants. It’s mostly local foundations. We still are very fortunate to get a Publix grant annually.”
Other area businesses have pledged their support, too. Bradley Gardner has donated any unsold fresh produce from the Winter Garden Farmers Market every Saturday for six years. T.G. Lee has donated dairy products and eggs for 55 years.
“T.G. Lee supplied Walgreens and CVS with eggs, (and) we got the leftovers of whatever the stores didn’t take,” Bailey said. “When Walgreens and CVS weren’t going to get the eggs anymore, we weren’t going to get eggs anymore. Bruce (Jordan, executive director) sat here and prayed, and somebody came to the back door with eggs. Now we have a women’s group that picked that up and provides them each week.”
PLACE OF PEACE
Bailey remembers dozens of stories regarding miracles at the ranch.
“We have so many God winks — it would make a believer out of you coming here,” she said. “And even if you’re a believer, you’re still amazed.”
She and Acks always liked telling the bubblegum story: “The children wanted bubblegum, and they weren’t allowed to have (any), and we got (a donation of) bubblegum ice cream.
Bailey believes in the ranch’s mission and considers it a blessing to work with the staff and students.
“It’s safe,” she said. “It’s a safe place for our children, it’s a safe place for our staff — mission-minded staff who have a heart for children. You see that every day, but it’s not just to love on them; it’s structure and love and seeing miracles happen every day here, whether it’s getting eggs donated when we don’t have eggs or seeing a child life’s getting completely turned around.
“Even in the chaos in the world, this is a place of peace,” Bailey said. “And people notice that when they come down the hill. It’s peaceful here.”
After Edgewood lost the United Way funding, it had to close one of the six cottages. There currently are 27 children living in three boys and two girls cottages, and the ranch cannot accept others until more cottage parents step up.
“Someone who has a heart for the kids but is a strong married couple,” Bailey said.
NEVER FAR FROM HERE
As Bailey wraps up her last few months at Edgewood, she also is interviewing candidates for her position. She said the ranch likely will hire two people, preferably people who have ties to the community.
When she is officially retired, Bailey will help her son more with his business, Bailey Bleus, which sets up a booth weekly at the farmers market. She wants to travel to Seattle more often to visit her daughter. She won’t fret over getting everything done on her day off.
One thing she is sure of — she won’t stop volunteering at the ranch.
“I’ll never be far from here,” she said. “I will still help with the fundraising. My friends are here. I have lifelong friends here.”
Bruce Jordan, executive director of the ranch, has enjoyed the relationship the pair shared.
“I’ve worked with Joan on and off for about 12 years,” he said. “We’ve always had a really good relationship. She’s very passionate about the ranch. … Her level of integrity is second to none as far as … she wants to make sure everybody’s taken care of across the board. She’s an advocate for the staff.”
Jordan is a former rancher, so he understands the success and the importance of the ranch. He returned to serve as a cottage parent and was mentored by former Executive Director Stuart Eldridge, who was preparing Jordan to take over the ranch following his retirement. Jordan became executive director soon after when Eldridge died suddenly in January 2020.
“When I came in as the new executive director … I depended on Joan for good feedback, good and honest feedback, for good perspective on what was going on both financially and organizationally — and I lean on her a lot, as far as some of the decisions I need to make in the organization,” Jordan said.
“Joan’s longevity, Joan’s integrity, Joan’s passion for Edgewood has helped make it the organization that it is today. She’s an integrate part of our team, and it will take multiple people to replace her.”
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