The 19 acres of the Central Oregon Veterans Ranch, on rural 61st Street northeast of Bend, are taking on a new look.
A new CEO, Patrick J. Giambalvo Jr., of Virginia, took over in June, bringing with him a new staff and a mission: to bring the ranch that serves as a place of respite for veterans of America’s wars closer to financial independence.
“What we’re doing here is kind of unique in the Bend area, in that we’re developing a model that can be duplicated across the country to serve veterans and be self-sustaining,” Giambalvo said Tuesday at the ranch office. “My opinion is that nonprofit is a tax status and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t make a profit. You can make a profit, and profitability means more money for programs to service veterans.”
Giambalvo, 59, came on board under a provisional, six-month contract, said ranch board president Charles Piersee. That contract has been extended another six months, during which Giambalvo will continue commuting to Bend for one week each month to oversee the ranch. If Giambalvo is a good fit, he may come on board permanently and move from his farm adjacent to Civil War battlefields to a home in Central Oregon, Piersee said. He said the board so far is satisfied with Giambalvo’s performance.
“If he likes us and we like him, we’ll make it a permanent position. So far, there’s no reason to change that position,” Piersee said. “He continues to voice the fact that all of Central Oregon does appeal to him.”
Giambalvo is paid $2,000 a month, with some expenses, Piersee said. The ranch covers some but not all of Giambalvo’s travel expenses, he said.
The Central Oregon Veterans Ranch came about as the inspiration of founder Alison Perry, a former Veterans Administration counselor whose brother, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Todd Perry, served as a helicopter pilot in Iraq. Perry came up with the idea while working as a veterans counselor in Bend and Portland, according to The Bulletin archives.
The ranch provides “agritherapy,” an opportunity for veterans to tune out the distractions of everyday life and focus on growing produce, tending to chickens, sheep, and soon, goats, and doing other ranch chores. About 20 volunteers turn out regularly each week to work the ranch.
Perry’s original vision also included providing end-of-life care for ailing vets. Founded in 2013, the operation relies on grants and donations, according to its tax filings. In 2015, the last year for which records are available, the Central Oregon Veterans Ranch ended the year with a balance of $156,967. The organization that year reported receiving $175,439 in contributions and other forms of giving.
Since its founding, the ranch has collected more than a half million dollars in grants and donations. That generosity will continue to be important to the ranch, Piersee said.
One gift, a $5,000 donation from Northern Energy, a Redmond propane supply business, pledged in November will go toward purchase of a new irrigation wheel for the ranch pasture. Giambalvo said the ranch will replace its flock of sheep with a herd of Boer goats, which the ranch will raise for sale for their meat.
“We’re looking at 75 goats, 75 to 100,” he said. “This will be our first winter where we’re stocking up. So, we have some animals now, some livestock now (sheep), that are going to be auctioned, and then we’ll be replenishing those as soon as the auction is over; we’ll be restocking with goats.”
The ranch is also leasing two more greenhouses off-site in order to expand its production of vegetables in the spring, Piersee said. The ranch has one greenhouse on the site, a 16-by-40-foot structure built with money raised by nine Rotary clubs around Central Oregon. Growing more crops for sale, particularly lettuce and varieties of basil, is part of Giambalvo’s plan. He said the greenhouse already sells produce to more than a dozen local restaurants.
“Our business model now here at the ranch will be not to just grow and sell to the local community, but to take orders from local restaurants on what they specifically want,” he said. “And then we will grow that for them and sell that back to them. That is also a sustainable revenue model that we’ll implement, as well.”
A former military policeman who served in the U.S. Army for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Giambalvo previously worked for a nonprofit trade group, the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, where he came on board in January 2015 as vice president of business development. Prior to that, Giambalvo served as director of membership, education and certification development for InfoComm International, the trade association for the audio-visual industry.
“I came from corporate medical and started in the nonprofit world in 2008,” he said. “It was an opportunity for me to get into it, and I was very fortunate to get into the nonprofit organizations that generate $150 million, $200 million annually.”
Piersee, a retired U.S. Navy officer, said a nationwide search turned up three or four candidates for the CEO position, from whom Giambalvo stood out. The board of directors expected the new CEO to make the ranch operation more financially self-sufficient, Piersee said.
“We always really wanted to have the ranch as a stand-alone operation, but we realized we were plowing new ground,” he said. “We tried a couple of new things, but we have not settled on what we want to do. There’s the necessity of what the vets want us to do and what we can afford to do, and there are government restrictions.”
Giambalvo said founder Alison Perry is still “very much” involved in the ranch operation, but not doing interviews. Perry did not return calls seeking comment. Piersee said Perry is a board member and also oversees the ranch medical and counseling programs.
Nonprofits like the veterans ranch are turning to a revenue-generating model more frequently in order to rely less on the generosity and gratitude of donors, Giambalvo said, and more on their own self-sustaining and diverse revenue streams.
“And this is a movement across the country in nonprofit organizations,” Giambalvo said.
The turn toward a business approach to the operation requires a balance between making the ranch resources pay for themselves and its core mission, Piersee and Giambalvo said.
“Of course, it’s an extremely hard balance to balance between business and mission,” Giambalvo said. “However, without business there is no mission or sustainable mission, so business usually wins.”
Piersee said the organization is “in a state of flux.” The original concept of men and women veterans working together and bonding on the ranch has been “very successful,” he said, but the continuing cost of running the ranch needs to be addressed. The end-of-life program, for example, ran into regulatory requirements that may be hard to meet, Piersee said.
“We are planning to continue on but may find out we can’t sustain (that program),” he said. “We’re building something that no one else has ever done.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7815, firstname.lastname@example.org