Photo: Peter Blasl

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, which has operated residency programs for troubled youth in Riverhead since 1980, has filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy.

The company, a nonprofit tax-exempt organization, is seeking protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, in which the debtor seeks to reorganize or restructure its business, while remaining in possession of its assets and continuing to operate. 

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch has more than $4.8 million in debts owed to more than 50 creditors, according to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition it filed in October. A little over $4.4 million of the listed debt is secured by mortgage liens on real estate and liens on other assets owned by the company. 

In addition, the company has as-yet unknown liabilities arising from five lawsuits currently pending against it, four of which were filed under New York’s Child Victims Act of 2019. The suits allege, among other things, negligence by Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch that resulted in the plaintiffs, three boys housed at the facility and a female visitor, during the 1980s and 1990s, being physically and sexually abused or assaulted by other residents at the facility. The Child Victims Act of 2019 opened a one-year window in which adult survivors of child sexual abuse could file civil actions for damages despite the statute of limitations having already expired.

The fifth lawsuit, also alleging negligence, was filed last year by the mother of a girl who was a passenger in a vehicle owned by Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and operated by an employee of the company, who was injured when she exited or fell from or was ejected from the vehicle while it was in motion, according to the complaint.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch stated in the bankruptcy petition that it had assets valued at an estimated total of more than $13.6 million as of the petition date. Of those assets, approximately $11.95 million was attributed to the company’s real estate holdings: eight properties altogether, six of them in the Town of Riverhead, including a 66-acre residential facility on Middle Road, four other houses on Middle Road, a house on Old Farm Road and a house on Sound Avenue. The company also listed multifamily properties in Huntington, Massachusetts and Searcy, Arkansas.   

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch was founded in June 1976 by Jerrell and Fern Hill. It is named for their son, who dreamed of opening a home for boys who needed a home and a family. Timothy Hill was killed at age 13 in a motor vehicle accident while riding his bicycle to school in Riverhead. Jerrell Hill was a working pastor at the time and the organization was established to provide support for troubled youth in a residential setting by “modeling Christ-centered values” to strengthen character.  He served as its first executive director.

The organization received a special use permit from the Riverhead Town Board in December 1977 to operate a resident child care facility and ranch on a 106-acre site off MIddle Road in Riverhead. The permit authorized the housing of up to 60 children in no more than 10 detached homes to be built on the property, with no more than four homes to be built in the first three years of operation. In 1983, the permit was amended to reduce the number of homes from 10 to five, but increase the number of residents in each from six to to 12. The construction of a second home, an administration building and a barn/stables was also approved at that time. In 1992, a special permit was granted authorizing an expansion to include another residence, a family service center, a farm manager’s residence, a chapel and a multifamily recreational building on the Middle Road ranch property. 

It has since acquired other homes in Riverhead for use as residential facilities, including as transitional housing for young adult men, ages 18-27, who were formerly in foster care. 

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch is licensed by the Office of Children and Family Services. Today, it has contracts with Suffolk County and 11 other counties in New York State for the care of children referred to Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch for residence at the Riverhead facility. The company also operates residential campuses in Tennessee and Arkansas, as well as retreat centers in New York, Massachusetts and Tennessee, according to bankruptcy case filings. 

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch had approximately 70 residents throughout its facilities and hosts hundreds of children during scheduled retreats at its various locations, according to its bankruptcy case filings.

It employs a total of 128 people across its locations, including 93 full-time and 35 part-time employees.

Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch is continuing to operate as the reorganization proceeding continues. Bankruptcy court orders allow the organization to receive contract income, continue to pay employees, cover benefits and payroll taxes, make mortgage payments and payments on other secured loans, as well as insurance payments and other regular business operating expenses reflected on a monthly budget approved by the court.

“For over 40 years, The Timothy Hill Ranch has positively impacted and transformed the lives of thousands of young people. We are committed to this mission and serving each of the young people in our programs,” the organization said in a statement emailed by Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch Executive Director Thaddaeus Hill Tuesday evening.

“The board and staff of Timothy Hill Ranch have been actively seeking and expect to achieve a resolution to civil lawsuits filed against our not-for-profit organization soon,” the statement continued. The “lawsuits are related to incidents that occurred between program residents over 35 years ago. No staff members were involved or accused in any way,” according to the statement.

“For the protection of the Timothy Hill Ranch, our mission and our record of 47 years of serving youth, the board, in cooperation with legal counsel, made the decision in 2023 to execute our constitutional right and file Chapter 11 Bankruptcy reorganization.

“By taking this action, we ensure the continuity of our programs and our ability to service at-risk youth. Our staffing levels have remained the same and there has been no disruption in services or programs. “

Hill, of Remsenburg, is a son of the founders and the younger brother of the ranch’s namesake. He has worked at Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch since 1990 and has been its executive director since 2002.

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to include a statement from Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch received after it was published. It has also been amended to correct a misstatement about the gender and residential status of one of the lawsuit plaintiffs.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.