The Founding Story of Diamond Ranch Academy
Hi. I’m Rob Dias, founder and owner of Diamond Ranch Academy. Over the years, I’ve been asked more times than I could ever count why I started Diamond Ranch Academy. My answer is simple: it’s in my DNA. My family has been helping young people who have difficulty finding their way in life for over 60 years.
You will need a little history to understand our family tradition of helping young people. First, my dad: George M. Dias, was born in 1932 to alcoholic parents (my grandparents). At the tender age of only five years, he would sit on the front steps of the bar where his parents were drinking and wait for them to bring him something to eat. Many times it was a long wait. He knew he would get a beating if he went into the bar. So he sat, patiently waiting for his parents, day after day, outside on the steps of that little bar. One day, with winter approaching, it was so cold he had no choice but to seek shelter.
The police found my dad wandering around the city as a child, which began a long and difficult stretch of his life, including moving from foster home to foster home. Some of his foster parents treated him kindly, but others were very distant and cold toward him. He remembered with pain and sorrow one foster home where his foster mother would send all of her biological children off to school with a hug. He would stand longingly waiting for the hug that never came to him. Those were dark days.
Many people under the same circumstances would have grown up to become angry, bitter adults. But my dad’s heart turned in a different direction. He knew, perhaps better than anyone, the sorrow and the emotional and physical suffering of neglected and abused children. He decided that rather than manifest his pain with anger and bitterness. He would soothe it by reaching out in love, care, and tenderness to disadvantaged children and doing all in his power to ensure they never had to be hurt again.
My father eventually met Shirley O. Hall, who would become my mother. Mom hadn’t had an easy childhood either. At the age of 7, she lost her father to lung cancer. Her mother had to work long hours to make ends meet and was seldom home. So at only seven years old, she had to shoulder the household’s burdens, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. That fate robbed my sweet mother of her childhood would be an understatement. My mom met my dad when she was 16 years old. It didn’t take long for them to get married and start a family.
My father found a friend, a companion, and a confidant in my mother. She shared his love for children and had the same drive to reach out to and care for disadvantaged children. My mom and dad had ten children, of which I was the third. For most people, ten children would have been enough (or, some might say, too many,) but my mother and father had a vast capacity to love children. Not only were ten children not “too many,” but they also took in 27 foster children over the years. No, that’s not a typo – they helped 27 children, who ordinarily would have struggled, to have an everyday life. And these foster children were never, ever treated like “outsiders.” They were part of the family as if they’d been born to my parents.
That brings us to my story. Growing up with that many brothers and sisters and having observed firsthand how my parents had made a difference in their lives, I knew at a very young age I would dedicate my life to helping young people with challenges. Throughout my dating years, I was looking for someone to share that dream with me and help me make it a reality.
I met my wife, Sherri, shortly before my father passed away. Throughout our courtship, it became apparent that she shared my passion for helping young people, and I knew that we would be a force for good in the world.
We married in 1980, and our family came quickly. I worked for a while as a high school teacher and donated my time in the community as a scout leader, a coach, and a leader of youth groups. We also followed the example of my parents and took in foster children. But in the back of my mind, there was always a gnawing feeling that I could do more – much more. Helping one child here or a handful of young people there was tremendously satisfying. But I wondered how we could help even more young people – hundreds or thousands.
In 1999, that powerful drive to help as many young people as possible manifested itself in the formation of Diamond Ranch Academy. I’d studied programs for troubled youth for years. I learned the techniques and the philosophies of why they did what they did, and yet, I couldn’t find a single program out there that I thought had the answer to the biggest question — how do we genuinely help these youth in the long term?
Changing behavior isn’t that hard. Some outdoor programs do it in 30 days. The problem is that as quickly as the behavior changes for the better, it can change back. And even in the longer-term programs, if you create an artificial environment and teach the child how to function appropriately, you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. For many youths, the things they’ve learned in that artificial environment don’t translate to the real world once they leave the program. I think that is why recidivism is high in the troubled youth industry.
Sherri and I knew that to effect any positive, long-term change in the lives of these youth; we’d need to create a program that includes as much “real life” as possible. We’d need to normalize their treatment process. Given the circumstances, how can you teach someone how to act in a real-life setting if you’re not living and working in as real life a setting as possible?
We also knew successful programs for troubled teens must have a top-tier, state-of-the-art therapeutic component. We’re almost always asked, “How much therapy do you provide your students?” Our answer is always the same: as much as it takes. Some youth have deep-seated issues and need more. Some youth can thrive with less. It has always been clear that any successful program must abandon the one-size-fits-all mentality. Every child is unique, with distinct talents, gifts, and abilities. Every child has specific challenges. We knew we would have to meet each child at whatever level they might be on in their individual development.
Those fundamental principles formed the foundation of the fledgling Diamond Ranch Academy Program. Before we opened our doors, we knew that these foundational principles would help troubled youth, and our efforts have proven the validity of our initial concepts. Of course, we’ve grown and evolved over the years. Nobody has all the answers the day they start in business. We were no exception. But after all of these years serving families, we’re confident we have the answer to that big question – what are the things that will help troubled teens make positive changes that will last for the long haul? And our success bears that out.
Since the inception of Diamond Ranch Academy in 1999, we have had a long history of successfully helping young people find their way in society. Our dream of helping hundreds, maybe even thousands, has been realized and is being added upon every day. And as gratifying as that is, what we find even more gratifying is that a third generation of Dias finds the same joy and satisfaction that helping young people can bring into your life.
Our children were raised with Diamond Ranch. That’s what we talked about around the dinner table while they were growing up and what we still talk about. That’s what we talked about in our family night activities. This isn’t a “job” for us like it is for many who walk away from work at 5:00 p.m. This is who we are…plain and simple. Our children saw that and embraced it. They feel the same passion for helping young people that their grandparents felt many years ago and that their mom and I still feel today.
We don’t just run a troubled youth program. There are plenty of those if that’s what you’re looking for. No, we help teens that have somehow gotten off the path to find the way to get back on. Not because we have to and not because we get paid to. We do it because it’s in our DNA. It’s who we are. We’ve never known anything else. To say it’s our life’s work would be an understatement. Even to say it’s our life’s mission doesn’t capture it. We’re driven to help young people. We couldn’t stop if we wanted to.
If you’re looking for a therapeutic program for your teenager that works and will make a long-term difference, I invite you to consider Diamond Ranch Academy seriously. If you need to find a program to watch over, care for and help your youth with all the concerns of a loving parent, look no further. We’ve been doing this for three generations. Our family has expanded to include the Diamond Ranch staff, parents, and students we have helped. We want to talk to you about how we can help your child. Please feel free to give us a call.
— Rob and Sherri Dias, Founders