GLEN ROSE (CBSDFW.COM) – He’s 79-years-old and on his own raises $6 million a year to help raise 200 children.
His name is Ed Shipman and he lives in Glen Rose, just outside of Fort Worth.
For 40 years Shipman’s taken kids on the brink of prison, life-long drug addiction, and poverty, and given them structure, education, and love at Happy Hill Farm Academy.
But when the economy crashed, the working farm and K-12 school almost went with it… that is until Shipman made a major adjustment.
A new hip may have Shipman walking more gingerly these days, but he continues to leap for the kids who need him.
“We can bring them here, teach them the skills they need in order to put them back into society,” he said.
He’s talking about kids like Elias Vecadoo. The 16-year-old has grown up on the 500 acre working farm and campus, dropped off by his mother at age seven, speaking no English.
We first met Elias five years ago; when he told us he wanted to be a pro football player. Today the teenager plays on the school football team and is soaring in the classroom.
His goals have changes a bit too. “I want to be a doctor,” Vecadoo said with determination.
Kristi Nerbaez was 14 years old when her aunt brought her to Happy Hill. Her mother had died from stomach cancer, and her father fell apart.
“From age four to nine, he drank himself to death. I was alone at home and found him there,” she remembered.
The now 18-year-old self-proclaimed rebel says the structured, value-rich environment of Happy Hill transformed her, and unleashed tremendous artistic talent.
“I wouldn’t have known what a pottery wheel was,” the teenager said of her opportunities at the farm. “It’s amazing I’ve been granted this ability. This blessing just to create things.”
Nerbaez now plans to go to college and become an art teacher.
Ed Shipman believes such success is more possible than ever for all of his kids, thanks to several significant changes at Happy Hill.
The school accepts no government funding and relies completely on private donations.
“That $6 million gets tougher and tougher each year, especially in this economy,” Shipman said.
Shipman knew he had to adjust, so he reached out to leaders of boarding schools across the country for advice. They encouraged him to cast an international net.
The former haven for poor and at-risk kids is now an international boarding school for motivated, economically disadvantaged students. But first, it had to raise the academic bar.
The school hired as headmaster Dr. Mark Evans and added two science labs. The school also has 12 teachers with postgraduate degrees.
The improvements have catapulted the school’s academic reputation and with it, student test scores.
“What we’ve learned especially with underprivileged kids, if we surround them with kids who want to go to college, they’ll go right along with them,” Evans explained. “I’m happy to say 100-percent of our kids have gone on to college.”
Shipman said the diversity has changed the entire culture on campus and students say they like the new and improved Happy Hill.
“Yeah, it’s not as strict as it used to be,” Vecadoo said of the school environment. “And I like all the people coming in from all over the world.”
Kristi Nerbaez agreed saying, “Everyone should know this is an awesome place!”
The international students pay tuition, as do 65 local kids who are bused in from the nearby Granbury school district for the day. But the funds don’t cover everything, so Shipman continues to raise all of the other operating costs himself.
This weekend a “shopping tournament” in Granbury will benefit Happy Hill Farm Academy. Click here to learn more about the event.