Chris Yaughn has been a lot of things in his life. He’s a husband and father. He’s owned a small business. He’s a go-getter who says he wakes up on Monday mornings and says, “I’ve been waiting on you all weekend. Let’s get it.”
But an influencer? He thinks not.
Yaughn was voted Most Influency Local Influencer in the 2019 Readers Choice Awards. People in Statesboro will know Yaughn from Fostering Bulloch, and from his more recent venture, 7th Mile Farm. The farm is an outdoor recreational facility developed by Fostering Bulloch to serve children in foster care in Georgia and at-risk youth in the community and beyond.
Yaughn’s journey to helping foster kids took the scenic route, and it began several years ago. He knew of some local foster parents, and said he felt a desire to help.
“I felt this tug like I was supposed to be working with the same demographic of kids, like we were supposed to be helping, like we were intentionally not doing something that God was calling us to do,” he said.
After wrestling with it for about a year, he and his wife attended a foster care orientation, where they found that there were five people in the room, including him and his wife.
“Per capita, Bulloch County should have about 30 foster families,” he said.
There was no state funding at the time for training, and the couple was told they would receive a call when the funded became available. That answer didn’t satisfy Yaughn. He wanted action.
“Eventually, it became clear that we were supposed to be the help,” he said. He continued to run his small business in Statesboro, and started Fostering Bulloch. But that proved difficult.
“It was literally the example of serving two masters. I just did one to pay the bills, and I did the other one because it was where my passion and my heart was,” he said.
He eventually made the decision that if enough families would commit to support him working with foster kids full-time he would “do it 100 miles an hour every day.” He’s been doing that for about five years now, and the commitment for that support has to be renewed each year.
“So every year, I have to get confirmation that I’m pushing in the right direction, because if I push too far in the wrong direction, the people that support me will dry up and disappear,” he said.
Yaughn’s desire was to reach beyond the initial impact Fostering Bulloch has, and so a partnership was developed with Broken Shackle Ranch, a Christian rehabilitation school that works with 16- to 18-year-old young men, providing GED classes and serving as a trade school in three different topics. Broken Shackle has a transitional house in Augusta, and they wanted to bring a similar footprint to Statesboro.
That footprint took the form of The Joseph House, formerly known as the Joseph Home for Boys, and when the partnership between Fostering Bulloch and The Joseph House was born, it was clear a facility was needed.
As he was out riding one day, Yaughn ventured past an abandoned property on Georgia Highway 46. Formerly Smithfield Golf Course, the property had potential in Yaughn’s eyes. The property was in foreclosure, and although he knew it would be a challenge, Yaughn said they quickly began the negotiations. A year later, the price was reduced to around $269,000 for 11.5 acres of the property.
“We were negotiating with the bank like we had money,” Yaughn said, smiling.
The Joseph’s Home for Boys had sold a property, and chose to donate the proceeds to Broken Shackle. That provided $220,000. Then DeAngelo Tyson, a former NFL player who had grown up in the home, donated another $70,000 toward the facility, raised by his foundation.
“We went into closing on a $270,000 deal with $290,000,” Yaughn said. So the first 11.5 acres was purchased, giving The Joseph House a home with space for growth for Fostering Bulloch.
As part of their outreach to help foster kids, Fostering Bulloch wanted to host Teen Reach Adventure Camps, which would bring the camps to its first Georgia site. The camps are designed to give foster kids a safe place to play, forgive and heal.
But as they began looking at facilities to rent to make the camps a reality, they found that it would cost them about $15,000 a year. So Yaughn began to look at what they already had on hand —11.5 acres of newly-purchased possibilities that came to be called 7th Mile Farm.
Yaughn’s vision extended to what could be done with the property beyond just having a transitional house. He saw a complete outdoor recreational facility with cabins, a rock wall, zip line, fishing docks, archery range, low ropes course, athletic fields and canoes.
“I stood on that hill and looked over the property and realized, hey, we can build everything we’re looking to rent ourselves. If we build it ourselves, and we pay for it ourselves, at the end of it, that $15,000, we can reinvest into assets that will serve our kids and our community 365 days a year, instead of seven days,” he said.
Since that time, 7th Mile Farm has begun to take shape. They began building cabins, have purchased a rock wall, added basketball courts and a playground, worked on the existing buildings, started on a dining hall and more. They have also purchased an additional 30 acres, and the entire property — 41.5 acres — is paid for.
“We’re building as we can pay for it. That’s the how. God is the how. We can stand on the hill and you can say, how did he come up with it? I don’t know. A little bit at the time,” Yaughn said.
The camps held on the property will be incredibly important, he said, helping children in foster care realize they do matter and that people do care for them.
“Children in foster care often get seconds on everything else. They get seconds on families, they get seconds on schools, they get seconds on clothes, they get seconds on everything. So this is first class for them. This is theirs. Their camps will get priority. We’re building it for them, but I expect them to share it with everybody else,” he said.
Because the farm is being built debt free, there is no restriction in how it’s used. It can be used also by groups who can pay, and that will help fund camps for those who can’t.
“We’re not opposed to renting it out to pay the bills for the other camps that we’re going to do for free,” Yaughn said.
Yaughn sees the potential impact of the property reaching far beyond Bulloch County. He says his heart’s desire is that it becomes a regional and statewide draw for kids with all kinds of needs.
“Bulloch is our epicenter, but is not our boundaries,” he said. “If Bulloch ever becomes our boundary, then I’m out. It’s just where we started. When a kid can show me where the county line is, then I’ll start caring where the county line is.”
But still, despite all that has been accomplished under his leadership, Yaughn says he feels inadequate as an influencer.
“Bulloch County still operates on about half the capacity that they need for foster parents. [I feel] inadequate because it is taking us forever to build this stuff and I know we’re going as fast as we can. Inadequate because I’ve got teenagers that make terrible decisions that I can’t remedy,” he said. “It’s God’s provision, not because of anything we have done that lives have been changed.”
But he does say this whole experience has made him fearless.
“I don’t believe anybody who tells me I can’t do something. Nope. You might be right, but I don’t believe you until we’ve tried. Until we’ve leaned on the resources that God has sent us over the years,” he said. “God has shown us that if we just show up and try hard, he’ll honor that and reward it. There ain’t much influence there.”