Rockside Ranch grows to reach and help more young men


Photo courtesy Rockside Ranch website

NEW UNDERWOOD, S.D. – Rockside Ranch is currently developing a site in the Black Hills to help young men living in crisis.

Rockside Ranch is an eight-month residential program on a fully-functioning ranch that offers men from 18 to mid-30s a place to learn life and work skills in a supportive community.

While on the ranch, students learn the daily routine of farming and the responsibilities and compassion that comes with it. Students get to grow and raise their own food, create their own heat and solve problems that come with living close to the land.

“I can just say from personal experience, it was genuinely like one of the greatest years of my life. I can’t think of a single better way for me to kind of come out of a rut and be prepared for just the workforce and developing healthy relationships and very grateful for it,” Tyson Palmisano, Rockside Ranch Alumnus, said.

Palmisano, who went through the program, had faced inconsistency in his life, but he was able to work on areas of his life and strive to better himself while also building a strong faith in Jesus Christ.

“I think that in the majority of the populations of the United States, there’s going to be people struggling with different things, whether it’s substance abuse, mental health, or just poor life management and that’s something that’s really actively worked on in the program,” Palmisano explained. “I didn’t really hold down jobs. I was just getting sober and didn’t really have any direction in that. I didn’t really have any life management, whatsoever. I didn’t really have a dedicated community around me, beyond loving family members that would really come alongside me. Rockside is an awesome program that’ll come alongside a student wherever they’re at and just kind of help them develop where they’re at. They did that with me and were able to really help me kind of hone in areas of my life to be able to just find victory.”

Originally Rockside Ranch, which started in Etna, California in 2011, branched out to the Black Hills as a workforce program. The program is for graduates of the original eight-month program to become plumbers in the area.Rocksideranch Pamplet

With the workforce program, contact continues after graduation; they continue watching over people and help guide anyone who may need it. The program provides a relationship that is lifelong.

The positive outcomes of this program can be seen from more than just alumni, relatives and community members see it as well.

“With Rockside, you have to want to go. It’s not like a program where, as a parent, your kid is being naughty and so you want to send them somewhere. They have to be ready to change their life around and be ready to restore – life restoration, basically. They have to want that,” Amy Painter, Rockside Ranch Director of Development, said.

Painter’s son is currently at the Rockside Ranch in Etna, California, after living in crisis and realizing that he should seek help, which adds to her passion for the program and helping more men in need.

“He [Painter’s son] was addicted to meth, he was homeless, he was suicidal. And it really took him to the point of being stabbed and left for dead that was his waking moment when he decided that he wanted to get help,” Painter said. “I think also – at least from my son’s perspective – the things that he’s told me is that’s one thing he appreciates is the friendships that he’s built with the other students because typically you don’t take more than eight students at a time. You build connections with the other students that are there and it’s nice because all of the students have been going through something before Rockside. But then even after that, they can continue in those friendships with those other students that they’ve rubbed shoulders with for eight months.”

The workforce program started in October 2020 and the work for setting up an eight-month residential ranch in South Dakota started in January 2021.

The ranch, north of New Underwood, is being built to invite men in the area to experience the Rockside program. They plan to start accepting students in September this year.


Tyson Palmisano, Rockside Ranch Alumnus, smiles toward Gordon Decker, Rockside Ranch Recruiter and Ambassador, during interview.

“In my time and in my past as law enforcement – I was a deputy sheriff here in Pennington County – and I’ve seen a lot of men that were struggling to change their lives or come out of a crisis environment. Through Rockside Ranch, six men in South Dakota have already had the chance to leave,” Gordon Decker, Rockside Ranch recruiter and ambassador, said. “And so that’s why we’re so passionate about bringing a Rockside Ranch to South Dakota that other men can come in and benefit from. There’s a huge need for men that are in crisis or need that opportunity to learn life and work skills in a supportive environment.”

Rockside is a nonprofit and they’re always looking for people who want to join in their mission in any way – through prayer, donating money or even helping with needs at the ranch.

The public is welcomed to go to a family bingo night that will help raise funds for Rockside Ranch, 6-9 p.m., Saturday, July 30, at the Open Bible Church of Rapid City.

“One of the challenges of any kind of recovery is the consistency of it and the follow through and there’s so many programs that are doing wonderful work out there that have a hard time following up afterwards,” Decker said. “Rockside is built to do the eight-month program and then to carry on the relationship for as long as that student will have that relationship with us. We’ll continue to try to plug them into a supportive community, help them find stable housing and good employment, and help them make good life decisions from there.”

To learn more about the program, visit Rockside Ranch’s website or call Amy Painter at 605-391-5877.

Categories: Evergreen, Local News, South Dakota News