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 are having difficulty finding their way in life for over 60 years.
To really understand our family tradition of helping young people, you’re going to need a little history. First, my dad: George M. Dias was born in 1932 to alcoholic parents. At the tender age of only 5 years, he would sit out 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 if he went into the bar he would get a beating. 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 him wandering around the city, and that began a long and difficult stretch of his life that included moving from foster home to foster home. Some of his foster parents treated him with kindness, but others were very distant and very 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.
I suppose many people under the same circumstances would have grown up to become angry, bitter adults. But my dad’s heart turned 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 that pain by reaching out in love, care and tenderness to disadvantaged children and do all in his power to ensure that they never had to hurt again.
My father eventually met Shirley O. Hall who would go on to be my mother. Mom hadn’t had an easy childhood either. At the age of 7 she lost her father to lung cancer. To make ends meet, her mother had to work long hours and was seldom home. So at only 7 years old she had to shoulder the burdens of running the household, including cooking, cleaning and laundry. To say 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 decide to get married and start a family of their own.
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 10 children of their own, of which I was the third. For most people, 10 children would have been enough (or, some might say, too many,) but my mother and father had a huge capacity to love children. Not only was 10 children not “too many,” they actually took in an additional 27 foster children over the years. No, that’s not a typo – they helped 27 children, who ordinarily would have struggled, to have a normal life. And these foster children were never, ever treated like “outsiders.” They were part of the family as surely 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 first-hand 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 who could 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 obvious she shared my passion for helping young people, and I knew that together 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 began to wonder out loud how we could help even more young people – hundreds more, or maybe even 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, the philosophies of why they did what they did, and yet, I just couldn’t find a single program out there that I thought had the answer to the biggest question of all — how do we truly help these youth in the long term?
Changing behavior isn’t that hard. Some outdoor programs do it in 30 days. The problem is, 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 in that environment, you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. The problem is, for many youth, the things they’ve learned in that artificial environment don’t translate to the real world once they leave the program. It’s my opinion that is the reason recidivism is high in the troubled youth industry.
Sherri and I knew that in order 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. 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, given the circumstances?
We also knew that any successful program would have to have a top-tier, state-of-the-art therapeutic component. One question we’re almost always asked is, “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 just need more. Some youth can thrive with less. It has always been clear to us that any successful program would have to abandon the one-size-fits-all mentality. Every child is unique with distinct talents, gifts and abilities. By the same token, every child has their own 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. We knew before we even opened our doors 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 the fact that a third generation of Dias’ are finding that 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 so many who walk away from their 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 out there 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 really capture it. We’re driven to help young people. We couldn’t stop if we wanted to.
If you’re looking for a program for your teenager that really works – that will really make a long-term difference – I invite you to give serious consideration to Diamond Ranch Academy. If it’s important for you to find a program that will watch over, care for and help your youth with all the concern of a loving parent, look no further. We’ve been doing this for three generations. Our family has now expanded to include the DRA staff and all of the parents and students we have helped along the way. We’d like to talk to you about how we can help your child. Please feel free to give us a call.