Lifestyle

Follow your mission, pardner

Bill O
Bill O'Brien, in the white hat, center, stands amidst a circle of children and volunteers at the M-Bar-C Ranch in Freeland, a place that many agree would not succeed without his dedication and hard work.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

If your intentions are noble, your purpose honorable, then you have paved your way to your mission.

The M-Bar-C Ranch in Freeland has a clear mission statement, beginning with “helping kids.” The Forgotten Children Foundation purchased M-Bar-C in 2003, and Bill O’Brien took over the helm.

He, along with a few staff members and more than 35 regular volunteers, are all dedicated to helping children, especially those experiencing extra hardships, illness, low income, disabilities or social disadvantages.

Their work starts with a simple statement: “The best thing for the inside of a kid is the outside of a horse.”

Groups of kids come to the M-Bar-C to ride horses, pretend in the western town, and enjoy a cowboy lunch, hayrides and home-on-the-range entertainment. Most of all, children just get to be happy, carefree kids for a day. All ages and non-profits are welcomed to the ranch at no charge.

It’s more than a mission statement or a motto that guides the M-Bar-C Ranch, however. It’s a man who’s often found under a big cowboy hat and behind a broad smile.

“Bill O’Brien has done more for the

M-Bar-C Ranch and this community than anyone I know,” says Kim Olmstead, horse manager at the M-Bar-C.

“I have been associated with the ranch since 1980, and Bill and his wife Deborah have brought this ranch to a new level. Bill becomes so animated when the children are around. He really knows how to bring them out of their shell. He works long hard hours, after everyone else has gone home.”

Kids are the mission, but all who enter the ranch can’t help but be caught up in the good will round-up.

“Bill’s enthusiasm toward making a difference and building alliances is contagious. When he asks people to step up ‘for kids,’ people jump in with two feet to make things happen. The ‘posse’ hooked our family in last year, and we are all richer people for it,” says

Sherry Mays, publisher of The South Whidbey Record.

O’Brien is seated at a long table in the M-Bar-C office. People come in and out asking his advice on this or that.

His cell phone rings constantly, as there are many decisions to make.

One college-age volunteer comes in to ask for O’Brien’s advice.

O’Brien answers by first asking the young man what solutions he has thought of.

Together they find the best approach, and the young man leaves with a confident smile and standing tall. O’Brien remarks that the volunteers are super; each one has a strong work ethic.

“We all know this isn’t about us,” he says.

When O’Brien was a Police Sergeant or in any leadership position, he has never micromanaged people.

“No need to...if you have the right people, they are perfectly capable of managing themselves and most situations,” he says.

“Bill is well aware that no man is an island, and his faith and belief in the volunteers is a huge part of the ranch’s success,” said Patrick Scott, an

M-Bar-C volunteer. “I’ve served with a lot of non-profits, and I’ve never experienced one that functions as well as this one. When someone comes up with an idea, Bill listens and tries to figure out how to implement it.

“You can’t be at the M-Bar-C without being inspired by Bill and the kids that come here,” Scott added.

O’Brien talks about one boy that came here wanting nothing to do with horses.

“By the end of the day, he was not only brushing the horses but he got on one. Every year since, we haven’t been able to get him off of the horses. I think riding high up on a horse helped him believe in himself,” O’Brien says.

O’Brien has always had a passion for helping kids.

“But I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do with that passion. When I was in high school I didn’t have a direction, and didn’t apply myself. I was a slow reader, I still have problems with reading and

spelling.”

And when he joined the Navy, he saw too many military members hurting themselves and others by drinking and taking drugs.

“A Navy commander encouraged me to get an education in law enforcement to help young people,” O’Brien recalls.

After getting out of the Navy he became a policeman in Kirkland during the time Vietnam was causing protests and riots in the streets.

“I was 25 years old, many of the rioters were my age. I didn’t even know where

I stood on the issue, but I had to curtail the riots. Most policeman’s days are seven hours and 59 minutes of boredom, and one minute of terror.”

O’Brien says some of his co-workers became callused — thinking that most people were on the wrong side of the law.

“I am fortunate that I stayed involved in my community around people helping others, so I knew most people were good.”

He stayed involved volunteering with the Forgotten Children, the Boys and Girls Club and went into schools as “Fuzzy” the safety bear.

He took his career and volunteering seriously.

“While I was on duty I was a policeman. But when I took the uniform off and was at home, I lost site of my mission and many nights I was Bill the practicing alcoholic. This behavior of mine lost me my marriage. Finally, I got help through counseling and haven’t had a drink in over 20 years.”

O’Brien says he hopes he can inspire other people not to take the drinking route in their lives.

Mike and Chris Crowell, M-Bar-C volunteers, share their high praise for O’Brien.

“Bill is an amazing man. He spends an incredible amount of time at the ranch for very little money. One of the first times we saw him he was waving and blowing kisses to some man in a cowboy hat and mouthing, ‘I love you.’ We weren’t quite sure about him, but we quickly learned that Bill is a friend to everyone and is very dedicated to children and the ranch. He loves these kids and they love him.”

Tina Jarvis, M-Bar-C volunteer coordinator, says she is in awe of the energy and spirit that O’Brien has for kids and the ranch.

“He greets each child that comes with a beaming smile and a cowboy attitude from the very moment they step onto the property. The kids are there to forget their problems, and Bill is just the man to help them do it.

“For four years I have witnessed Bill’s magic and devotion for these kids. He works hard and asks nothing in return.”

The Forgotten Children has a saying on their Website:

At the close of our days on earth, the question will not be how much we have, but how much we have given, not how much we have won, but how much we have done, not how much we have saved, but how much we have sacrificed.

May we all live out our mission in this life.

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