Thanks to a concerted effort by citizens of Hope, Christmas was a lot brighter this year at two campuses of the Arkansas Youth Ranch.

First of two parts Thanks to a concerted effort by citizens of Hope, Christmas was a lot brighter this year at two campuses of the Arkansas Youth Ranch. Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton, his wife, Nancy, and their daughter, Lacey Jo, took two trips to campuses of the ranch before Christmas, bearing gifts from generous Hope residents. “We solicited cash and gifts to take to the Ranch,” Singleton said. “I went on the radio and asked the folks of Hope and Hempstead County to help give the kids a better Christmas. We already had sizes and favorite colors from the houseparents at the sites, so we knew what they wanted and needed.” The Arkansas Youth Ranch began as two mobile homes on several acres in Independence County in 1976, according to their extensive website. Through the support of Arkansans and the state's county sheriffs, the program has expanded to include campuses in Independence, Clark, and Crawford Counties, and a multitude of outreach programs. What began as a safe have for two boys has provided more than 1,000 Arkansans a place to call home. Through the Hempstead County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, Singleton thanked the many people who contributed clothes, gifts, money, saddles, and tack. “The DeGray Ranch is home to five girls, ages 12-18 years of age. Each one received various gifts of fuzzy socks, to pajamas, jackets, shirts, belts, jeans, and other items donated or purchased with money donated by the people of Hempstead County,” he said. “However, one gift the girls went crazy over was a personalized blanket that was monogrammed by Sarah Darling.” “My mom heard James talking on the radio about the Youth Ranch, and wanted to do something for the residents,” Jennifer Orr, Sarah Darling's daughter, said. “I picked up the blankets and she did all the work on them. That's just the way she is, when she sees someone in need, she helps them.” “Mrs. Sarah and Jennifer, on behalf of the girls at the DeGray Ranch, thank you,” Singleton said. “You made five girls very happy this Christmas, and, as we drove away, each girl was wrapped up in their blankets. “Friday evening, we loaded the truck again with saddles, tack, clothes, and other gifts and took off to the Batesville Ranch,” he said. “After spending the night, we drove on out to the ranch Saturday morning and delivered the rest of the gifts sent by the great people of Hempstead County. We didn't get to meet a lot of the kids because it was Saturday and everyone was sleeping in. “We did get to meet one of the houseparents and some of the boys at his home. The Batesville ranch is home to boys and girls on over 500 acres on the White River. We unloaded gifts with the help of some of the boys, drove around the ranch, and headed back to Hempstead County.” The ultimate experience of the Singletons' visit is the giving of herself shown by a 12-year-old girl. “While there, the youngest of the five girls wanted to show Nancy and Lacey Jo her room and while in there, she began to tell Lacey and Nancy that she wanted to give them a gift, but all she had was a school picture of herself and some shells she had picked up off the shoreline of Lake Degray, and with that, the 12-year-old handed my wife and daughter the shells and the photo,” Singleton said. “She gave all she had and that is something that we will remember for the rest of our lives. I just want to say thank you again to all who gave money and gifts to make these children's Christmas one that they will remember. A very special thanks goes out to Sarah Darling and Jennifer Orr, The Rafter J Cowboy Church family, the Hempstead County deputies, and St. Mark's Episcopal Church.”