Do the right thing. Be a good citizen. This message is displayed on the marquee at Letcher Elementary School to encourage students to be the best they can.
LES Principal Wendy Mullins says the sign is there to remind her students of the need to have a sense of belonging and pride in the community.
“What we want from our kids is kindness, empathy, respect and responsibility,” said Mullins.
Peri and Ricardo Pardo, whose equine ministry, Revelation Ranch, is located nearby at Blackey, also put emphasis of self-discipline and strong moral values.
Twenty-four LES students spend three hours twice a week after school at the ranch, which is located on Calvary Campus, participating in “Heart Light,” a youth mentoring program.
“It has been a wonderful enhancement to what we are doing at school with character education, citizenship and responsibility,” said Mullins. “Because we are in such close proximity with Calvary Campus, there is such a natural connection.”
Mullins said the Pardos are helping her to provide students with guidance on making good life choices.
“It’s all about responsibility and it’s biblically based,” said Mullins. “They back it up with the Bible.”
Mullins has seen a difference in student achievement. Discipline problems have decreased. Attendance has increased. Schoolwork has improved.
“It’s making a huge difference in our school,” said Mullins. “They are better students of our school now. The culture and atmosphere is much more kind, loving and nurturing.”
Vicki Williams, LES guidance counselor, has noticed an improvement in behavior of students involved with the Heart Light program.
“Most aren’t involved in sports and this gives them a chance to belong in a group and it is something fun,” said Williams. “They need good mentors and people that take an interest in them. It is defi- nitely a positive effect.”
The Pardos use horses as a tool to connect with students and as a gateway to build relationships with them.
“There is a natural draw to horses in some way,” said Mullins. “There’s a magical thing when God gave these creatures to be a friend to man.”
Parents are also invited to spend time at the ranch with their children.
“ It’s not just for the kids,” said Pardo. “It is for the caregivers, too. I believe the families are getting stronger through the program.”
Lena Whitaker, of Blair Branch, said the Heart Light program has helped her son, Austin, improve his manners.
“He is more polite,” said Whitaker. “He enjoys coming down here. He even goes to church with them.”
At least 15 of the students in Heart Light have asked the Pardos to take them to church and have been attending Whitesburg First Baptist Church with them on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings and evenings.
Before coming to Letcher County, the Pardos owned a trail riding company and a property maintenance company for a development firm in Banner Elk, N.C. Peri Pardo was also a private chef.
In October the Pardos decided to sell their home, pack up their belongs and move to Calvary Campus, located on the campus of the old Stuart Robinson School. Pardo said the couple’s original vision was to mentor eight to 10 children after school. More students wanted to participate and the Pardos created more programs based on the ranch’s popularity.
“We really felt that it was so much out of our hands that we just needed to say yes and go,” said Pardo. “We like adventure. You have to have faith. You have to be flexible.”
The Pardos’ sevenyear old twins, Alex and Jazlyn, are second graders at Letcher Elementary. Daughters, Jessi, 16, and Jenni, 14, are homeschooled and volunteer with the ranch programs.
“Our kids are as important to the program as we are,” said Pardo.
In addition to mentoring 24 children each week, they also offer private horse riding lessons. Boys spend every Saturday afternoon helping Ricardo with building projects in a program dubbed “Faith Builders.”
“They learn a skill and are a part of something outside themselves,” said Pardo.
Sleepovers are held for girls and boys from Heart Light on a separate Friday night each month.
“Every weekend there is something whether it is a cookout or something else,” said Pardo.
Pardo hosts a Soul Food Friendship Club every Thursday night for women in the community to gather and talk about nutrition.
“I think it is a wonderful opportunity for our community,” said Susie Flynn, who attends the Soul Food Friendship Club. “They are touching so many people’s lives. I want to help and be a part of it.”
Flynn said she feels a sense of peace at the ranch.
“It’s amazing,” said Flynn. “They are so friendly and open their hearts up to these kids and they feel it and want to be here.”
Preschoolers from Appalachian Early Child Development Center, whom the Pardos call “Ranch- Kins”, spend a few hours at the ranch on Wednesday mornings. Summer day camps for children 10 and older will start soon.
“We were given complete and total freedom to do what is on our hearts,” said Pardo. “We just say yes to everything and let God work out the details. Everything we have is a gift and we are utilizing those gifts.”
Children involved in all of the ranch programs will participate in the “Leap of Faith Rodeo” set for May 20 through May 22 at Revelation Ranch.
“We want to showcase the work and progress of the kids,” said Pardo. “We want them to be proud of what they have achieved.”
The rodeo will begin at 6 p.m. on May 20, 9 a.m. on May 21 and 10:30 a.m. on May 22.
Admission to the rodeo is a bag of sweet feed, a bale of hay or a monetary donation for horse feed. The Pardos don’t have an income and rely on support from the community to provide services.
The Pardos take care of eighteen horses at Revelation Ranch and Pardo said the cost of upkeep for the animals is $150 a month per horse. The Pardos created a horse adoption program to help cover the costs to care for the horses. Only three horses are adopted.
“Between the community and church it is successful,” said Pardo. “If this ministry is to thrive, we will always need funds.”
For more information, call the Pardos at 606-233- 3674 or 606-633-9300.