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Imagine a beautiful piece of property, where wildflowers grow billowing clouds allow beg for daydreaming. It’s scattered with cottages, playgrounds, basketball courts, swimming pools and a community center. Children of all ages are running, laughing. They are safe, loved.
The Klaus’ have set in motion a plan. This is their dream, and it’s soon to become a reality in the form of a special place called Agape Ranch, a 501c3 nonprofit organization formed in 2014, where state-licensed foster families will live in a neighborhood setting and support each other with respite care and encouragement. The word “Agape” is Greek for unconditional, brotherly love.
“Our dream is to show foster kids what a family looks like,” Susan Klaus said.
They practice what they preach. Three of their five children are adopted, two are biological and they have fostered seven children during a 7-year period over their 12 years of marriage. Their oldest is Paul, 9, followed by James and David, both 8, then Berea, 6 and Josiah, 4.
“I wanted to adopt before I got married, and I asked Tim about the possibility of it. It was such an important thing for me,” Susan Klaus said.
The Klaus’, who met at church when they each lived in Illinois, had gone on mission trips to Haiti, Mexico and Ecuador and worked in orphanages in those countries. But it was on a trip to Thailand with Compassion International, working with children in poverty who were at risk of being sold into the sex slave trade, that they fell in love and realized they shared the same innate need to help children.
“It was the first time he said he loved me. And we realized that our personalities meshed,” she said. After they married, the two prayed together and asked what the main focus in their lives would be. “We needed to find out what to do for God’s kingdom and decided on orphan care,” Susan Klaus recalls.
Tim Klaus came from a large family and now works as an assistant professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi where he teaches Management Information Systems. It was this job at the University that brought the family to Texas. Susan Klaus has worked as a teacher, but currently serves as the Executive Director for the Agape Ranch and works on the Mission Team at the couple’s church, Fellowship of Oso Creek in Corpus Christi.
Their first order of business is to obtain land, about 10 to 15 acres. In the best case scenario, they hope it will be donated. But if they could purchase it at a reduced rate, that would also be helpful. The Agape Ranch would own the homes, mostly four and five bedrooms each and would rent them out to licensed foster families at a reduced rate so that one parent could commit to being at home with the children full time. The other parent would work a paying job outside the home. There will be some cottages for retired seniors, along with homes especially licensed to provide respite care. The goal is for the community to be self-sustaining, Susan Klaus said. They will not accept government funds.
Their dream will eventually include 18 homes on this piece of land, built over a 15 year period, within the Corpus Christi Independent School District, to house families with at least three foster children and a maximum of eight. Three of the homes would provide respite care for the foster children so the foster parents could have a date night or some time for themselves. The other three would be reserved for retirees or widowers, who are also available to care for foster children, Susan Klaus explained.
The couple originally thought they might look for an opportunity to live in another country and provide care for orphan children, but the right situation didn’t materialize. It was then that they saw the need in the Coastal Bend area and decided they could do the same thing for children here, and the feedback has been phenomenal.
Community support from an elected official, the state of Texas, and the spiritual community in Corpus Christi has been instrumental. Local businesses are offering support once the land is obtained, Susan Klaus said. About $4 million will need to be raised by private donations to have the Agape Ranch fully functional. Fundraising will need to be done for land, development and homes. The operational costs will come from the reduced rents people will pay, Susan Klaus said.
“They see we are investing in the future by helping children. The conversations have been positive,” she said of the supporters.
The Klaus’ also want to include a program at Agape Ranch for 18 year olds who lived there as youngsters and who have aged out of the foster care system. “This would allow them to come back and go to trade school or college and live with a family. At 18, they often aren’t ready to be on their own,” Susan Klaus said.
The behavioral problems that foster children may have aren’t necessarily their fault, because often, they have been abused and neglected. “They are ripped from their homes and put in foster care. They have behavioral issues, and they are struggling to figure out who they are,” Tim Klaus said.
The biggest goal of the Agape Ranch will be to keep sibling groups together and to keep Coastal Bend children in the area rather than placing them in a home in another area of the state. This can be difficult because there are not enough licensed foster care homes to go around. “There is a significant part of our future being shipped off because of a lack of space,” Susan Klaus said.
Matt Brennan, pastor of the Fellowship of Oso Creek, where the Klaus’ attend church, agrees that there is such a need for foster parents and respite care providers for foster parents. And the separation of sibling groups is a problem. “I wanted to make a bigger impact and provide counselors and a safe and loving environment,” Tim Klaus said.
“We want to be able to minister to these kids, and Agape Ranch will be a place for these kids to have their needs met. Well-trained foster parents are needed to understand what’s going on in the child’s life,” Brennan explains. He said although not everyone may be in a position to foster children, there may be another way to make a contribution, such as donating land for the Agape Ranch.
Another supporter is Nueces County Commissioner, Brent Chesney, who presided over the adoption of two of the Klaus’ children when he was a County Court-At-Law Judge. He calls the couple “amazing” and says there is nothing like the Agape Ranch in existence in the area. “It’s a Herculean effort to have undertaken. So many families could benefit, and it’s a great concept,” Chesney said.
Anson Nash, Executive Director of the Corpus Christi Baptist Association, said he was excited to hear about the Klaus’ vision in Agape Ranch. He said he and his organization are helping to network them in hopes of obtaining some financial help for their ranch. “It’s a very ambitious program, and it’s a God thing. We’ve been praying with them, and we are moving forward,” Nash said.
Georgina Morales is the Regional Director for Child Protective Services and sees many benefits to an organization such as the Agape Ranch, especially not having to send children away from a familiar area where they have access to relatives.
These children are a large part of the future of the Coastal Bend. At Agape Ranch, the goal is to keep them strong, healthy, together, and loved.