Working in special education for 23 years, Debbie Hunt discovered there are not many activities for children and young adults with special needs that allow them to show independence, to have ownership of something, or to earn from good work that they have done. Recognizing this, Hunt started R.E.A.C.H. Camp, which stand for Ranch Education for All Children’s Hearts at Stoney Oaks Ranch in Alpine, a camp that applies daily ranch activities that produce therapeutic results.
“I have children and young adults come to camp and experience what it would be like helping, working, living on a ranch,” said Hunt. “We take care of horses, grooming, learning body parts, bathing, hoof care, and muck their stalls. We take care of goats, filling water buckets, grooming, and cleaning up. We take care of chickens collecting eggs, refilling water. There are dogs on the ranch, more for socializing with them, petting them and allowing them to be around dogs. We have pigs. We add water to their mudhole with a couple of small swimming pools for the hogs and take care of their feeding needs.”
Hunt said socialization is a big part of the therapeutic process by working together as a team on the ranch, snacking together, art and music.
“Sometimes we just sit and talk about horses, watch English riders jump horses, watch horses in the arena,” she said. “At times, they can ride the horses as we have horseback riding as well here. We are getting ready to implement a new program for children and adults with special needs, so that they can have horseback riding lessons sometime in the fall when the weather cools down.” Hunt said this gives parents an opportunity to instill the many personal character building skills gained by working on a farm, bringing confidence, selfworth, and the value of a good day’s work.
“And it is work. It is hard work. They are dirty, dusty, and sweaty. They are lifting and moving things, using teamwork. It gives them a sense of confidence and to be proud of themselves. Some of them say that they work for REACH Camp, and that is a good thing,” she said.
Along with the work and social life the camp brings, Hunt also helps them in understanding the value of their hard work in respect to monetary gain.
“I started a small store where the children and adults are learning money value to their chores that they do on the ranch,” she said. “For example, mucking a stall, or taking care of goats is $5. So, they are earning money and they get paid every day that they attend. Twice a month I have a small store that they can purchase items that they want. In that time, we are learning to count money, organize money, and then pay for items.”
Hunt said she is taking the growth of the camp slowly. Now, camp typically is two hours at a time. She said some come twice a week, or twice a month, while others just call when they want to come out and have a ranch experience.
“It is super exciting,” she said. “The kids are thriving. I have great feedback from parents. I have videos of them not wanting to touch a horse to grooming, smiling, telling me they are no longer afraid. It has been wonderful.” The camp also develops occupational therapy skills.
“I have a young adult with cerebral palsy, and she does not use her left hand very well. But we will often say, ‘use lefty,’ and she will open her hand and is able to hold a brush and do some grooming on horses,” said Hunt. “She is holding a broom now, raking the stalls, so it is great therapy and the kids and adults do not know that they are getting therapy. And that is what has been fun with all of that. Their growth has been wonderful.”
Hunt said that right now she has kids and young adults ages 4-23, but she can take older campers. She said over the past year, most of her clients come to the ranch by word of mouth, wanting to see how the camp developed before doing more intense advertising of the services the camp provides.
You can contact Hunt for more information on Facebook at REACH at Stoney Oaks Ranch or email her at thehuntfamily5@ cox.net.