At the age of 11, Brodie Croyle declared he wanted to play for the NFL. Years later, that dream came true. Now he’s applying the lessons he’s learned along the way to help other kids make their dreams come true at Big Oak Ranch. We spoke to him and Richard Grimes, President and CEO of RealtySouth, about their longstanding friendship, why both of their organizations support families and communities, and more. Here’s what we learned.
1. What is Big Oak Ranch + what do they do?
At its core, Big Oak Ranch gives children ages 5 and up an opportunity that none had, regardless of their socioeconomic background. They live in families with houseparents and other siblings. The children go to school, do extracurricular activities, work when they are old enough. Then they eat with their families, go to church, do homework and play.
“It teaches them a work ethic, family values, and gives them a family instead of being in the system.”
Then + now
- A farmhouse
- five boys
2022 – almost 50 years later
- More than 2000 children have called Big Oak Ranch their home
- Over 200 live there now
- Over 90% stay until they graduate from high school, trade school or technical college
- 13, soon to be 14, lives on the Boys’ Ranch
- Cattle operation at Boy’s Ranch, raising all beef for the entire ranch
- 11, soon 12, homes on Girls’ Ranch + a community pool + lake
- Westbrook Christian School – between the ranches for boys and girls
- ASCEND Village is coming soon to Birmingham to help college and trade school kids make the transition to independent living
2. Meet Richard Grimes, President and CEO of RealtySouth and a longtime Board Member of Big Oak Ranch
When Richard Grimes was growing up, his father owned a marine engineering shop. One day, John Croyle, one of the founders of Big Oak Ranch, brought in a ski boat for repairs. When Grimes’ father heard about the ranch, he said, “We don’t charge for it. You are doing a great job helping children in Alabama—who wouldn’t want to help?”
Grimes, who has been with RealtySouth for over 20 years and has been President and CEO for six years, recalled the early days of his marriage.
“My wife and I have been married for 27 years now. As forekids a few decades ago we had a great life – we were busy with our careers, we traveled a lot and we had a lot of fun. We had no intention of having children, but children still touched our hearts. So we invested in Big Oak Ranch. We did work days there and gave money because we saw that they do a good job.”
Grimes and his wife now have two great girls but remain connected to the ranch because they believe in their work.
3. Meet Brodie Croyle, President and CEO of Big Oak Ranch
“My story begins a long time ago. I literally went straight from the hospital to the ranch.”
When Brodie was 11, he walked into his parents’ bedroom and said, “I’m going to play in the NFL.” Her response, “Shoot for the moon—worst case scenario, you’ll end up in the stars.” At the time, he didn’t have one played organized sports, but that dream turned into an obsession until he was able to play in Alabama and then five years in the NFL.
He’s been back at the ranch for 10 years since he was a football player.
“Right now you think it’s a sport, but it’s amazing how past life experiences shape the future. I had to learn to deal with different personalities from a young age. I had to understand that you have to produce, but how do you build a team at the same time?
To see a sport life and a football life translate into life and have a community with as many children and as many staff as we have – it has been a blessing.”
4. How RealtySouth became involved
When you have top real estate agents who bring in a lot of money annually, a gift card doesn’t mean much. So RealtySouth came up with the idea of giving back to the community as a company on behalf of the top producers and letting them choose different charities.
Other organizations she has supported include Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama and Red Mountain Grace.
In 2021, RealtySouth’s top producers decided to support Big Oak Ranch.
“We are excited about the great Oak Ranch because it will benefit future generations and children.”
5. What’s driving the relationship between RealtySouth and Big Oak Ranch
“RealtySouth sells nice houses to nice people. Big Oak Ranch helps children in Alabama – it’s about family and giving children a second chance. I saw the difference with my own eyes. I’ve seen kids come through Big Oak Ranch and turn out to be great adults.”
“When you pull up we want you to see excellence and we want you to feel like family. We believe that family takes place in the home. Let’s recreate what family should be. Let’s do it at the table. Let’s do it in a home and with a community that will wrap its love around these children and show them a different way of life, so they know that where they come from doesn’t determine where they go.”
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