The Inner City Slickers program was held on June 28 at the Sunnyside Ranch 30 miles outside of Lund. The program, run by former Three Dog Night drummer Michael McMeel, works with kids and parents to teach them how to overcome fear and accomplish what they didn’t think they could. The Ely Times sat down with McMeel to ask him a few questions about the program and how it can help kids and parents alike.
Times: How did this all come about?
McMeel: I’ve been working with kids since the late 70s. I had a television show for kids that really went viral back in the day on ABC and kids just loved the show and that kind of just opened me up to kids after Three Dog. I was shooting a commercial that had horses and kids in it and I noticed that every time the horses came out the kids just lit up. I must’ve had the movie City Slickers on my mind because I thought, what about the inner city slickers?! Since then I’ve gone on to realize that not just inner-city kids need help but kids all over do, just look at the news. So I put on my first program in the early 90s which had about 200 people. I had to rent a ranch and it was very expensive. So I bought my own ranch and started doing the program every other weekend. Then I started going into all the juvenile prisons and working with them. Fast forward to when Facebook came out and that opened new doors to reaching parents and kids to participate in the program and it started to spread across the United States.
Times: For people not familiar with the program, what are the kinds of things you are trying to teach the kids?
McMeel: Bottom-line— hope. Hope that they can have a better life. Secondly — trust. To teach them how to trust, who to trust. When you take them through a series of events like the “fall of faith” (falling off a ladder backwards to be caught by a group) takes a lot of trust. I didn’t even do that for the first 15 years but the kids eventually forced me to do it, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. Other things are working together as a team and leadership. I usually pick the smallest or shyest kid to be the leader of the group. And of course the horses are great because we do a bunch of trust exercises with them. Finally there is the mechanical bull, which is basically just a barrel on strings 15 feet high. It is all about taking them from being timid to being excited and dreaming big.
Times: What are some of the things that you have learned from putting on this program for so many years?
McMeel: Patience. Things are going to happen on their time, not mine. I can’t force them to do anything.
Times: How did you get involved with the Johnson family?
McMeel: Check this out. They found a newspaper article about me in the bottom of their wood pile and she gave me a call. They care so much about kids and this area is so fortunate to have the Johnson family here and her facility to help kids. So they contacted me and we’ve been working together ever since, working with probation kids, doing our ICS program four times a year here. And we are finally starting to make some headway into the community and I think it is waking up the community. Most of the places I go there is nothing to do for the kids, so this gives them something positive to do. We want these kids to feel strong.
Times: Have you ever received any feedback from kids after finishing the program that stuck with you?
McMeel: Oh God yea. I got an email from a homeless girl in Kansas City. She came off the street three days before coming to our program. She seemed pretty beaten down, head hanging low and acting like she was forced to come and didn’t want to be there. Anyway, I heard from her three years later, telling me that anytime she feels afraid, or worries that she can’t accomplish something, she thinks about the “fall of faith” and it reminds her that she can overcome it. A lot of times we don’t hear back from the kids but I know that we are making an impact, I can see it in their eyes by the time they leave that there was a difference made.
The program will return to the Johnson’s Sunnyside Ranch on July 26, Aug. 23 and Sept. 20. For more information about the Inner City Slickers program, call 423-289-3820.