Tag Archives: autism

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats

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
  • 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, 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




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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Melodic Connections

Melodic Connections

If you have been reading for a while, you have heard me mention that I was a band geek when I was young.  While I stopped playing music with a band after graduation, I still enjoy music and sharing music with my family.  Today’s organization sees the power of music in enhancing lives. 

In August 2003, Betsey Zenk Nuseibeh left a private music therapy practice to accept a position teaching music and music therapy in Cincinnati Public Schools.  She worked with many students with special needs but one student in particular moved her.  Latron was an autistic boy who did not speak except to echo back words spoken to him.  He was different in the music room.  He showed signs that he had perfect pitch.  In December 2005, he learned a simple blues progression on the piano and when he returned after winter break in January, he sat at the piano and played the beginning of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata after just listening to it on a recording each day.  Through music therapy, Latron found his voice, a way to communicate. 

A music therapist works to achieve musical and non-musical goals such as improvement in communication, academics, and motor skills.  Other families were inspired by Latron’s improvement and expressed interest in lessons.  Unfortunately, the cost of private music therapy is hard to fit into a budget already stretched by the expenses of occupational, physical, speech, and other therapies. 

Like-minded people around the Greater Cincinnati area were willing to donate their time and resources toward the cause.  A board of directors was formed including area writers, business people, teachers, therapists, and parents who had seen the benefits of music therapy first hand.  Space was donated by the successful Starfire Council non-profit and other community members were willing to donate instruments to the cause.  In April of 2009, Melodic Connections anticipated the possibility of 16 students receiving services from two music therapists.  Over 40 individuals expressed an interest in participating. 

The mission of Melodic Connections is to empower special learners through therapeutic group and individual music education and performance experiences. Melodic Connections also works to enhance the lives of Greater Cincinnati community members through the enjoyment of performance based musical art created by exceptional persons.

In 2010 the organization already needed to expand due to the growing interest and wait lists for their programs.  They moved into a new location dedicated solely for their lessons.  Since opening their new location in October 2010, they have expanded their adult conservatory day program from 3 members to 20.  After school classes have doubled in number as well.  They are proud to offer their programs at low or no cost to those who can benefit from the music therapy. 

In addition to their in studio adult daytime and youth after-school programs, they go to several local schools to offer music therapy.  They also offer summer social skills camps for kids ages 5 to 15. 

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Melodic Connections has a variety of ways you can help them further their mission. 

  • One way to help is hands on with the music and musicians.  They need regular volunteers to assist with their classes.  Every class is led by a board certified music therapist and you will receive instruction in how to best help the students.
  • They also need help spreading the word about the organization and helping them grow.  They need assistance with social media, their website, as well as other marketing and public relations tasks. 
  • They could also use event planning assistance for their concerts and fundraisers. 
  • They can also use monetary donations to help them continue to offer low and no cost music therapy to students in the Greater Cincinnati area.  You can find a PayPay donate button on their website or contact Betsey directly.  

You can learn more about Melodic Connections on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook and Twitter

Related Posts:
Ear Candy Charity and Making Music Matters

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Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Can Do Canines

On the semi-complicated field of pet wars, it seems you are either a dog person, a cat person, or – like me – a lover of all animals big and small.  You may love some animals less than others – mice, for instance, when they are crawling around in your attic (gross!) or bears when you are camping in the north woods (yikes!).  But when it comes to helping those with limited mobility, hearing or sight impairments, diabetes, prone to seizures, and many other disabilities, it’s time to give the dog camp two thumbs… err… paws up!

Since its inception in 1989, Can Do Canines has been creating partnerships that improve and sustain quality of life for people and their canine partners.  Over the past two decades, Can Do Canines (of New Hope, Minnesota) has placed more than 300 assistance dogs in the arms of disabled clients within Minnesota and the four surrounding states.  Their organization’s mission is, “dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people who are disabled by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs.” 

 Note that these partnerships are mutually beneficial.  While Can Do Canines can train pet dogs, most of the animals they train are donated by breeders and area animal shelters.  According to Can Do Canines, 14% of all Minnesotans live with an impairment (physical or emotional) that leads to a decreased quality of life and increased medical expenses.  While there is a definite need for increased mobility and independence among those with physical and emotional impairments, those needs must be balanced with safety.  Consequently, limited insurance plans and limited finances may make owning a trained dog a cost-effective solution.  As an alternative to high-priced medical treatments, not only can trained dogs be lighter on the pocket book, and provide safety and independence, but they can be emotionally uplifting to people with disabilities as well.

These dogs, however, do more than heal emotional scars, and help people with sight impairments navigate streets, sidewalks, and shopping malls.  Can Do Canines can train dogs for just about any quality of life challenge.  They can train “Hearing Assist Dogs” to assist people that are deaf or hard of hearing; they can train “Mobility Assist Dogs” to do a wide array of tasks from alerting family members to a person’s need for help to retrieving dropped items and serving as a brace to assist with standing or walking; they can train “Diabetic Assist Dogs” that alert their partners when their blood sugar is getting low; they can train “Seizure Assist Dogs” that can retrieve phones or find help for people afflicted with seizures; they can train “Autism Assist Dogs” that prevent children with autism from dashing into dangerous terrain or situations, as well as provide tactile stimulation for the child; and they can train “ Facility Based Assist Dogs” that provide physical, verbal, and emotional therapy.

The obvious financial and emotional benefits would make Can Do Canines a booming business, but they offer their trained animals to clients free of charge.  Through donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and community organizations, Can Do Canines helps dogs from animal shelters find homes, people with disabilities find mobility and independence, and both find friends.  This is one mutually beneficial relationship that even a cat lover could give two paws up!

You can help Can Do Canine’s mission by donating money or in-kind donations.  Learn more about making a donation and view their current wish list on their website.  You can also purchase a children’s book about service dog Ally.  You can also review their website for current volunteer opportunities. 

Learn more about Can Do Canines (formerly known as Hearing and Service Dogs of MN) at their website or becoming a fan on Facebook.

This post was written by Brent Pearson….Blogunteer supporter and husband.

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Posted by on October 21, 2010 in Nonprofit Organization


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