For those of you who do not know the story of Jerry and Judy Horton and their dream to find an appropriate living situation for their daughter with down syndrome, it is worth the read. The story of the creation and continuing evolution of Down Home Ranch in Elgin, Texas is inspiring. It is also something I would like to create here in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The idea to create a ranch based life style for Alex and her peers is a massive undertaking, but would be the most worthwhile project I have ever completed. Despite the fact we have no land, no money and no secret angels, I know there is a need. And as they say “where there is a want there is a way”.
Molly, the Executive Director of WindWalkers, the equine assisted therapeutic riding center where Alex rides, and I are together on this mission. We are currently looking at other residential communities to research best practices and learn how others have succeeded. For that reason Alex and I went to Ranch Camp at Down Home Ranch.
Ranch Camp is one of the ways Down Home Ranch raises money for operating expenses. There are eight one week summer sessions, separated into adult and teens as well as on-going weekend retreats. Alex went as a camper and I went as a volunteer. It was worth every nickel.
There were almost 40 campers in Alex’s session, divided into five teams. She was on the red team with seven other campers and two counselors. Every camper had some sort of a mild to moderate disability, and about half the campers had down syndrome. This did not stop anyone or anything, just like a camp for “normally developing teenagers” these campers had activity filled days and nights. There was paintballing, archery, swimming, crafts, horseback riding, basketball and line dancing. Yes, in Texas line dancing is big, and it certainly was a hit with Alex, actually anything having to do with dancing works for Alex. She already is talking about next year!
The campers slept in big bunk houses, or lodges with their counselors. I slept in one of the lodges with three CITS, 16 year old girls who volunteered for a few weeks of their summer at the camp as kitchen aides. I was impressed by these CITS, who were thrilled to be working long hours for free so they could interact and participate with the campers at Ranch Camp. In the evening I listened to these three girls talk about the campers and how impressed they were with their abilities. It made me realize that the sooner our children without disabilities are introduced to children with disabilities, the sooner acceptance and inclusion is instilled into our population. What an example for others these young teenagers are.
During the week I was able to observe the Ranch and meet some of the 20 “ranchers”; the young adults with intellectual disabilities who live at the Ranch. I was also able to talk to both Jerry and Judy Horton who were happy to share their experiences, offer advice and provide encouragement. I learned about the funding issues that never go away (as I suspected) as well as the kindness of so many who help make dreams come true.
Mostly, as was my goal, I learned about the evolution of this dream for a fulfilling and satisfying life for a baby with down syndrome to a world renowned model of residential living for adults with disabilities. It was inspirational and motivating. So my next goal for myself is to keep the faith, plow ahead and figure out how to tell a story that will make people want to support us. Any ideas?