While PEC member and Candlelight Ranch Program Director Lynette Holtz was caring for the camp’s therapy horses one afternoon, she heard a faint humming. It couldn’t be, she said to herself, as she looked at the boy beside her. A non-verbal autistic teen was brushing one of the horses. He was also vocalizing for the very first time.
“I got it on video,” Holtz gushed. “We see things like this all the time, and he’s just one of our many success stories here at the ranch.”
A group from GirlForward, an organization for adolescent refugee girls, is ready to ride the ranch’s zip line.
Candlelight Ranch is a therapeutic, educational, nature-based camp for at-risk and special needs youths ages 5 to 18. Serving 1,800 children and young adults each year from 35 different organizations on 41 acres of land, the possibilities for breakthrough moments are endless, Holtz said.
“People are shocked whenever they come out here and see what we have and how these children are impacted by what we do here,” Holtz said. “You never know what’s going to engage these children and give them and their parents some much needed hope in their lives.”
Holtz has always had a passion for nature and first aligned her interest with her career when she became a summer camp director at LCRA’s McKinney Roughs Nature Park in Cedar Creek. Six years ago, she accepted a similar position at Candlelight Ranch and she said her current role is even more rewarding.
“My thing is nature. It’s so empowering to watch it impact so many different lives every day and getting to work with a variety of children,” Holtz said. “One day, I’m working with children from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and then the next, I’ll be working with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Wraparound Program. How cool is it that we get to use nature to show these children the beauty of life?”
Here, youths from all backgrounds can have worry-free, outdoor fun. Because camps cater to each group, they’re not all the same, but there’s plenty to do: fishing, hiking, horse therapy, kayaking, a low ropes course, a wheelchair-accessible treehouse and a wheelchair-accessible zip line.
The real magic of Candlelight Ranch lies in the volunteers who serve the camps year-round, Holtz said. Volunteers get to choose which groups they would like to work with and are free to select which activities they want to participate in at the ranch.
“But we always want more [volunteers],” Holtz added, “and we are so grateful to have such a large volunteer group as is. I think once you see what we’re doing here and the children experiencing camp before your eyes, it makes you feel good to say, ‘I’m a part of that.’”
And that’s what has kept Holtz here all these years: She’s in it for the long haul, she said.
“I’ve heard so many kids tell me while they are at camp that this was the best day of their life,” Holtz said. “That gives me the strength and will to continue to make a difference through our ranch and in our communities.”
For more information on how to volunteer, visit candlelightranch.org/volunteer.