Student returns to finish education after 30-year absence

A former Horned Frog is back and on a mission, he said, to finish the education he started more than 30 years ago and show disadvantaged children the importance of seeing things through to the end.

Gary Randle played basketball at the university from 1975 to 1977. In the final game of his sophomore season, Randle had a fight with his coach that changed everything.

“His frustration was leveled at me,” Randle said. “So when he cursed me out; I cursed him out.”

Days after the fight, Randle left the university and basketball.

“When I left basketball, and basketball was no longer in my life, it was something I struggled with because it was like a divorce,” he said.

While he struggled to fill the void left by quitting basketball, he moved back to his hometown of Riverside, Calif., and discovered a new passion. He said his friends encouraged him to visit American Youth Foundation, a home for inner city boys in West Hollywood. At the home, Randle said, he was shocked to see the conditions the children were living in.

“I opened up the refrigerator and the only thing in it was a jug of milk so spoiled you couldn’t pour it out,” Randle said. “I later found out the way the kids ate was the white kids prostituted themselves and the blacks and Hispanics stole.”

Randle said that seeing the conditions in which the children lived was the catalyst that spurred his interest in helping improve the lives of inner city youths.

After working at the American Youth Foundation, Randle married a woman from Fort Worth and moved back to Texas. He then began working as a police officer in the youth division of the Fort Worth Police Department.

In this new position, Randle saw a high volume of minority children in the juvenile detention system, and he said he felt something needed to be done to help them avoid further correctional action.

“That’s when I developed the program called H.O.P.E. Farm,” Randle said. “H.O.P.E. Farm is an acronym for ‘Helping Other People Excel.’ And farm is a word defined as a track of land sanctified for cultivation. We take boys around age 5 and we cultivate them into men.”

Randle said the program is for boys whose fathers have been murdered, incarcerated, or have abandoned them. After founding H.O.P.E. Farm Inc. in 1990, he said there are now 35 boys enrolled in the program, and he estimated he has helped more than 200 since the program began.

H.O.P.E. Farm Inc. is funded by donations and is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, according to the program’s Web site. The ECFA provides accreditation to Christian nonprofit organizations.

Located in the Morningside area of Fort Worth, H.O.P.E. Farm, Inc. has facilities that include classrooms, gamerooms and a library for the children to use, said Noble Crawford, operations director for H.O.P.E. Farm Inc. There is also a dining room where the children eat meals, as well as learn proper etiquette and social skills.

“He makes sure that no matter what kind of day that they’ve had at school.he hugs each one of them and he tells each one of them that he loves them,” Crawford said. “His heart is very passionate for these guys.”

The boys in the program come to the recreation center after school and on weekends for academic and athletic activities as well as games and meals, Randle said.

One important message Randle said he tells the boys is to finish what they start. Randle just re-enrolled at the university to finish the education he started 33 years ago.

“I’m back at TCU to finish,” Randle said. “This is just another page in my life I can turn, and I can turn it complete.”

Adjunct communications professor LeAnn Roberts, who teaches Randle in one of her classes, said his unique experience set separated him from his peers in a positive way.

“Watching Gary in class and bring in ideas that are current in the business world or current in the Fort Worth community really brings an opening experience for the general college-age student,” Roberts said.

Randle expects to graduate in May 2011 with an undergraduate degree in communication studies.