Most mothers would do anything for their kids. Today’s organization was founded by a mother who wanted to ensure her son was cared for even after she was gone.
Kathryn Nordberg started Erik’s Ranch & Retreats in 2008. She was inspired after her own experience as a mother contemplating the future for her son Erik. Every parent of a special needs child wonders “what happens when I am gone…who will care for my child”? When Kathryn looked around, she did not like the options she found for adults with autism. Most of the models were structured around a center-based operation where disabled people gather to complete mundane tasks. This model works for some people, but not for everyone.
Individuals living with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can have difficulties with communication and forming relationships. Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is built on a model that will address those needs by allowing residents to engage with the guests while doing something they enjoy.
Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is located on two properties, one in Edina, Minnesota (a suburb of Minneapolis) and a second in Paradise Valley near Bozeman, Montana. At the Minnesota location they offer “Erik’s Minnesota Adventures” – tours led by individuals with autism. Each tour invites six to thirty volunteers to participate in one of many adventures, such as a behind the scenes tour of a local horse track, learning about St. Paul’s architecture, or a visit to an art studio. These are not your traditional volunteer opportunities; these are chances to help build a person by giving their passion a place in society. You can learn more about the current tours offered as well as additional information on the program on their website.
Ricky, who works part time as an experience guide of the 1960’s Counter Culture and the History of Aviation During World War II tour said, “Erik’s Minnesota Adventures means a lot to me because I’ve always had the dream of being a history teacher. With my tours I am finally able to help people and teach them something they might not have known before.”
The Minnesota location also offers a special needs riding program where volunteers assist trainers and staff in giving therapeutic horseback riding lessons for individuals age 5 to 35. You can read more about the riding program and sign up here.
At the organization’s Montana location, they will start offering a voluntour vacation that allows guests to experience natural surroundings, excellent food, as well as a pool and spa. Several activities and tours such as cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing will be led by a resident experience guide. Learn more about this ranch vacation opportunity on their website.
The organization is guided by the principals of lifelong learning, individual community building, and bidirectional integration through voluntourism. These opportunities offer their residents individualized life plans in exciting and challenging careers, opportunities to build connections and relationships, and a new paradigm for expanding the life and social skills for individuals with autism. The guests and volunteers at each location will be able to see the world through the eyes of a young adult with autism while the residents and tour guides can share their knowledge, passion, and talents with others. These are opportunities that may not have occurred otherwise and offer a meaningful way for the residents to engage with guests and fulfill their social needs.
Once the program is fully operational, both the ranch in Montana and the retreat in Minnesota will be fully self-sustaining and serve as a home for 84 permanent residents (49 in Montana and 35 in Minnesota).
How can you help?
- Since Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is still new, they could use help getting the word out about their program. Spread the word about their programs on Facebook and Twitter by sharing this blog post.
- You can let them know you are interested in volunteering by filling out the form on their website. To volunteer for the riding program, you can contact Chelsea at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you live in Minnesota or are visiting the Twin Cities area, you can volunteer to take a tour. Learn about all the available tours and sign up here.
- They also accept financial donations on their website.
You can learn more about Erik’s Ranch & Retreats on their website, eriksranch.org or by watching the video below. You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also sign up for their e-newsletter by e-mailing them at email@example.com.