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 Boys’ Ranch names new executive director

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Feb. 7, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

As of last Monday, Feb. 4, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in Spokane has a new executive director: Joe Pickert, a former tight end for the Dallas Cowboys who has built a national career in investment management while continuing to combine his love of his faith, children, and sports.

Pickert succeeds Father Joseph Weitensteiner, who remains Director Emeritus of Morning Star and “very much a public advocate for the Ranch,” said Jenn Kantz, MSBR’s Communications Director.

Pickert is no stranger to Morning Star. He has served the last year and a half on the MSBR Foundation Board.

When the position opened, “several people were trying to talk me into” applying for the job, he said. “I’d never even thought about it before. I decided it was something I thought I could do – do some good, help the Ranch,” particularly as he recently witnessed Father Weitensteiner “not getting what I’d consider a fair shake in a lot of the press.”

Pickert has not just been part of the Ranch’s Foundation, however; he has come to be involved in the life of the boys there as well.

One of the Ranch residents spent Christmas last year with Pickert and his family – his wife and four children – “and as I took him back to the Ranch at the end of the day, I asked him if he’d had fun. His comment was that was the best Christmas he’d ever had. Here he is, carrying his bag with two gifts we’d given him.

“Things like that, you think, ‘there’s a lot of boys in need, a lot of kids in need.’”

His work in the world of finance exposed him to “all kinds of different causes. There are some things that will help” bring about success in an organization’s work.

He has some pretty solid experience with children. Besides his own four – age 14, 12, 9, and 6, three of them boys – he comes originally from Kansas City, Kan., where he grew up in a family of seven.

The Ranch presently works at capacity, with 25 boys in the program, said Kantz. The Ranch “only takes the boys we think we can help, who are a good match for our services and interventions,” she said. “We focus on making them a better person, leading a better life.”

“I have a lot of goals for the Ranch,” Pickert said, including, he hopes, expanding its capacity and outreach. “We feel we can and should take care of more boys,” he said. “We know it’s not easy, but we’re often the last resort for some of these boys. We don’t want to turn them away.”

The boys of Morning Star often come from backgrounds that provide extraordinarily difficult personal challenges. Some might suggest that simply becoming productive citizens at some basic level is enough to hope for, but Pickert disagrees.

“We also want to teach these boys that it’s not just about survival, not just to be average. I say, Why not be great? Why not keep striving to do more? These boys – some people feel, after what these boys have been through, it’s great that they aren’t on welfare, but we say, that’s just a start. We want them to make a difference in the world. It’s not an easy task, but God has a plan.

“We’re charged to help these boys,” he said, “to be a light for these boys in the dark night.”

Expansion might also include outreach into the larger community, he said.

“We want to do more in the community,” he said – find ways for Morning Star to be “closer knit” with the community. Perhaps an art therapy conference. An autumn open house will give the public the opportunity to really take a look at what Morning Star is like. It’s a potential “win-win,” he said: involvement in the community, with Morning Star’s expertise, helps the community, helps kids, but also gives good role modeling for the boys of Morning Star.

One Morning Star project that has had regional impact is the summer football camp he took over about the same time he joined the board of Morning Star’s Foundation. The camp, he said, has grown to be the largest of its kind in the Northwest, with about 1,000 kids expected this coming summer.

It dovetails nicely with his work as founder and former president of the Pop Warner Tackle Football program in Spokane.

“I think tired boys don’t get in as much trouble,” he says from experience. Keeping them physically active “isn’t a bad thing for kids.”

“My personal goal for the Ranch is to build the best children’s charity in the Northwest,” said Pickert. “That’s a tall order. There are a lot of great charities in the Northwest.”

What would that organization look like?

“From a donor perspective, you feel like it’s efficient, it’s well-run. From a staff perspective, it’s a place where they feel like they’re making a difference. From a community perspective, it’s a place that cares about the needs of the community and does what it can to help.”

And from the boys’ viewpoint?

“From a boy’s perspective, it’s a place that teaches goals. It’s a safe environment that allows them to succeed.”

He builds on a long legacy in the Inland Northwest. He called Father Weitensteiner “a great person who spent 50 years doing everything he can, not making any money doing it, and has worked very hard for 50 years developing something that has touched the hearts of 1,300 boys.”

Morning Star itself, he said, is “a safe place for boys that have been through very difficult pasts,” whether that means parents “who weren’t great role models,” or failure in the foster care system “that wasn’t necessarily in the boys’ best interests.” These boys, he said, “have been through a lot and it’s not always their fault. It’s our job to make an environment where they can succeed.

“We strive to never forget” these things.

“Father Joe did a great job the last 50 years, taking care of 1,300 boys,” said Pickert. “We’ll try for the next 50 years.

“And I would ask the Catholic community for your prayers.”

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