Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Morning Star’s new development director: ‘We can’t raise children with up-and-down funding’

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the June 12, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

P.J. Watters (right) of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch believes the organization’s story needs to be better known. (IR photo)

P.J. Watters is a woman with a mission. She is the new public relations/funding director at Morning Star Boys Ranch, a place whose story, she said, needs to be better known.

Morning Star Boys’ Ranch has been a steady beacon to troubled young boys in the Spokane area for nearly 50 years. Over 1,200 boys have passed through the ranch, which was started by the late Bishop Bernard Topel in 1956. Father Joe Weitensteiner is the ranch’s director, a post he has held since 1966.

“It (the ranch) has an impeccable reputation,” she said. “But I lived in the South Hill area for 15 years and didn’t even know it was there.”

Watters, whose disposition is as sunny as her office, comes to the Ranch from a 19-year stint at HMO Group Health. She was responsible for all Group Health education programs, “from the cradle to the grave,” giving her valuable media skills and experience in communications. One example: “We put out over 400 pamphlets on various topics,” she said.

She gained management experience and also served on civic groups in the community. One committee gave her a thorough knowledge of troubled youth: “I co-chaired the Adolescent Health Care Committee, which was a multi-disciplinary team to identify children at risk and how to intervene and minimize those risks,” she said.

She also served on the Chase Youth Commission, the Heart Association, the Red Cross and Leadership Spokane. From that last group came Youth Leadership Spokane, which Watters said is “unique in Spokane and really beneficial.” High school students are trained to serve on public boards which is “tremendously helpful. Theirs is a voice not often heard.”

Watters has another mission in her new post, which can be seen in Father Weitensteiner’s vision for the Ranch’s future. “He would like to see an endowment large enough to support the ranch without state funding,” she said.

That source of funding has been drastically reduced for all social services with the state’s stagnant economic climate and budget deficit. “We can’t raise children with up-and-down funding,” Watters said.

People are generous, she said, with memorial gifts, bequests and even those “gifts out of the blue. But maybe it’s time to ask, to make our need known and let people answer as they will. But it’s important to ask. We need to do a better job of knowing who wants to give to us,” she said.

Watters and her husband, George, live in a small cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Rockford Bay, and she commutes 45 minutes to work. That may change when winter arrives.

The couple raised 10 children altogether, including two nephews and five foreign exchange students. Watters is working on writing a book, via e-mail, with her mother, who lives in New Mexico. She enjoys reading, gardening and being outdoors.

The Ranch held its annual awards banquet June 9 when residents were given recognition for their accomplishments, scholarly and otherwise, during the year. Even though a resident may not be officially recognized at such an event, the stories of their accomplishments are important.

Watters related one such story about Robert Davis, a Ranch resident who was once a “throw-away kid.” The young man is a junior in high school, participates in sports and also holds a job. His athletic prowess qualified him for the 400 event in the state track meet, a major accomplishment for any athlete. “He found a lot of hope (at the Ranch),” Watters said.

The Ranch is licensed for 24 boys, ages 10-17, but there are many more who apply. That is the last and major part of Watters’ mission and Father Weiten-steiner’s vision. Her funding efforts will make sure there is a place for all troubled boys who need help. “Father’s goal is that no boy would be turned away,” she said.

Watters quoted Marian Wright Edelman, who is noted for her work as a children’s advocate: “‘We can spend money to send them to Harvard or to send them to prison.’ The community will pay (these costs), one way or another,” Watters said, posing this question: “Isn’t it better to help them become contributing members of our society?”

For more information regarding Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, call Watters at (509) 448-1412.

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