Three-and-a-half years ago, Shawn and Tasha Westberg suffered a loss that shook them to the core.
In their 26 years of marriage, the couple has raised three boys and counseled countless young people through coaching, FFA, 4-H and youth ministry. The longtime Copperopolis natives have experienced the joy and heartbreak of foster parenting, as well as community crises that tested their Christian faith and their ability to lead in times of tragedy. But nothing has ever rattled them as deeply as the death of their 20-year-old son, Colby, who crashed his truck on Highway 4 in the dark hours of a September morning in 2016.
“We had a choice at that moment to blame God and live bitterly, or continue to trust the God we professed so boldly in our lives,” the Westbergs have written regarding the origin of what was to follow. “Our time on this earth is so short, and when our son’s life was taken, we realized we had no time to lose.”
With the hindsight of several years, the couple now sees Colby’s death as a catalyst for the implementation of a vision they had been nurturing for decades, a plan which combined their shared faith, their love of the ranching lifestyle and their passion for helping youth.
Last summer, they obtained nonprofit status for their new organization, Trinity Ranch of Calaveras County. With the help of family, friends and the community, they have already taken in two young men, called “ranchers,” with a third on the way.
The voluntary program offers a second chance for disadvantaged young men who want to better themselves for a brighter future – a live-on ranch where they can learn crucial life skills, further their education or train in a trade, and study the Christian faith.
In their experience as parents and mentors, the Westbergs found that men between the ages of 18 to 25, especially those who have aged out of the foster care system, are at a pivotal stage in their lives but often overlooked by society.
“It’s such a hard age,” Tasha Westberg told the Enterprise. “I’m drawn to that age so much because it’s a turning point in your life where you can go down a path of destruction or really turn it into something good.”
Yet in their nationwide search for a similar organization upon which to model Trinity Ranch, the Westbergs found nothing.
“We’re inventing the wheel here,” Shawn Westberg said. “There’s no program like this.”
While juggling their day jobs, the Westbergs worked with a ministry team comprised of family and friends to develop intake policies and contracts for the ranchers, while also spreading the word in the community to raise funds for their growing ranch.
With donations from local businesses and a lot of elbow grease, the Westbergs, their ministry team and the ranchers were able to build a new pig barn on their 20-acre property in Copperopolis and are currently finishing their first cabin for their newest rancher to live in.
However, the barn and the cabin are designed to be moved, in the hopes that Trinity Ranch will soon find a home on a parcel large enough for a dozen more cabins, an arena for outreach events and cattle as a source of revenue for their organization.
“We want to have enough that we can raise our own beef and process it and sell,” Shawn Westberg said. “There’s only so much work that needs to be done here. If we had a full working cattle ranch, there would be more to do.”
When asked how they plan to acquire hundreds of acres, preferably in Calaveras County, the Westbergs point to their faith and the resources they believe God has already provided them.
One major facet of that financial plan is Trinity House, a skillfully planned, single-story home that will soon break ground on Tanner Court in Murphys.
The proceeds from Trinity House will be donated to the ranch by Shawn Westberg’s brother Darick Westberg, Bay Area developer Wally Luke and his wife, Marlene. Westberg, a member of the Trinity Ranch Ministry Team, originally planned to split the profits with Luke and wrestled with the idea of giving the money away.
“God just put it on my heart,” Darick Westberg said.
Luke quickly followed, and over the past year, many local businesses have pledged time and materials to building Trinity House, from free plumbing fixtures to halved rates on a sewage permit and an in-home elevator.
Pro bono contractor John Losoya hopes to finish the home before the end of 2020, though additional labor and materials are desperately needed. As with most everything else, the Westbergs remain confident that the needs of Trinity Ranch will be met by a generous community.
“We’re not necessarily dealing in factuals. We’re dealing with God,” Shawn Westberg said. “God will provide the means and the place.”
In the meantime, Trinity Ranch seeks to provide their current ranchers with the structure of consistency, integrity and love.
At ages 15 and 17, with one born overseas and the other a local resident, the first two ranchers they’ve taken in don’t fully meet their target demographic. However, the Westbergs believe that the boys are right where they belong.
“They’re our kids,” Shawn Westberg said. “All those people who walk through that door are our kids. I think God brings everyone here for a reason.”
Over the past months, the boys have flourished under the responsibility of caring for the animals at the ranch, steady rules and life skill classes in subjects like basic auto, cooking and writing, the Westbergs said. Ministry Team member Bruce Eads has also provided employment for each rancher at Eco Fire Sprinklers, Inc.
“I haven’t even been here a year, and Trinity Ranch has improved and helped my life so much,” one rancher wrote. “Trinity Ranch also provided me with animals to take to the fair and a very good job. Shawn and Tasha have helped me so much, and I am sure they are going to help me a lot more.”
“Trinity Ranch has helped me in so many ways, it’s amazing. For the first year ever, people compliment me on my grades,” another wrote. “I’ve never felt safer and comfortable as much as I do around Shawn and Tasha. … I really do feel blessed to live here.”
For more information on Trinity Ranch of Calaveras County, visit trocc.org. To help build Trinity House, call Wally Luke at (925) 998-5927.