When you’re in the shed business, you have the opportunity to do work for a lot of amazing people. I think I can honestly say that everyone at Lone Star Structures sincerely enjoys interacting with our customers. Something we have started doing more recently is to celebrate all of these great people is to feature a few of them in customer stories on our blog. A while back we were able to interview Becca Paro about a playhouse that she got from us. Becca put a lot of work into it and made it into what we think is the cutest playhouse in Texas. Trust us. It’s adorable.
More recently, I had the opportunity to interview another one of our amazing customers: Down Home Ranch (DHR). Since 1989, DHR has been serving people with Down Syndrome, autism, and other developmental disabilities. They do this by creating a place where residents, or Ranchers, can socialize, educate themselves, and learn vocational skills. DHR is a vibrant community of people doing an incredibly important work.
I had the chance to speak with Cortney Ferris, DHR’s Business Development Director, Craig Russell, DHR’s Executive Director, and three of the Ranchers, Tom, Kelly, and Jim. They gave me a little picture of what life is like at DHR. This is what I want to share with you. My hope is that after reading this, you are as impressed with DHR as I was. But before you keep reading, I highly recommend that you watch this video.
About Down Home Ranch
DHR’s mission is to “Empower the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through social, educational, residential and vocational opportunities.” They accomplish this through their different types of programming. These range from their short-term options, such as respite or ranch camp, to their long-term option which is residency.
The most unique aspect of DHR is their approach to helping Ranchers. Cortney describes it in this way: “It’s really built around what the Ranchers are interested in themselves. We don’t do the programming and then the Ranchers have to mesh into it, it’s the opposite. Whatever the Ranchers are interested in, we build the programming around that.” By building their programs and activities around the Ranchers, DHR is able to tailor the program for each person. There is no cookie cutter approach because each Rancher has different needs and interests. Through the DHR experience, the residents are given the freedom to make choices, learn skills, and create the life that they want. “It’s giving them the same opportunities that we expect in life,” says Craig.
A great example of the opportunity that Ranchers have at DHR to create their own programs is described in the story of the Feral Hog Task Force that Craig shared with me. One day while he was sitting in his office, a young Rancher walked in and declared, “We gotta start a feral hog task force.” The young man then described how he had seen on TV that a neighboring county had started their own task force. Craig agreed to help him start a DHR Feral Hog Task Force. They started a class so that others could join the force and by the end of their first quarter, they had already caught two feral hogs. Today the Feral Hog Task Force is running strong and has five committed members.
“It’s giving them the same opportunities that we expect in life.”
History of Down Home Ranch
DHR was incorporated in 1989 and founded on the vision of Judy and Jerry Horton. Their daughter Kelly, was born with Down Syndrome. Judy and Jerry realized that unless they found a special place for Kelly, her life could be very difficult. This began their quest for a community for Kelly. Somewhere where she would be accepted and given the opportunities available to everyone else. However, Judy and Jerry were largely dissatisfied with the places they found and so they decided to create their own community for people like Kelly. This was the beginning of Down Home Ranch. If you want to read more about the history of DHR, check out their Our Story page.
As already mentioned, DHR has a large variety of programs available. These range from their day program to residency on the Ranch. These programs are designed around the Ranchers which means that many of them, like the Feral Hog Task Force, were started based on the interest of a Rancher.
The Day Program at DHR is set up to serve both residents and non-residents. There are educational activities such as painting or computer classes, volunteer activities at food banks and nursing homes, vocational training in areas such as horticulture and animal husbandry, and much more. Participants get to choose their own schedule and activities. You learn more about their day programs on the day programs flyer or schedule.
The respite program is a short-term option which allows non-residents to come and spend time on the Ranch either in a group or independent home. These Ranchers participate in the Day Program with the assistance of DHR staff. They can socialize, experience independent living, and be creative in a fun and welcoming setting. Visit this page to learn more about respite.
“Down Home Ranch Camp is a week-long, overnight summer camp for adults, 18+, with cognitive disabilities.” Typically, around 100 campers come to socialize, swim, hike, hang with Ranch animals, roast marshmallows, and much more. It’s a place where people can have fun and be themselves.
There are several different types of residency at DHR. Group homes are set up for either 3 or 6 residents along with a live-in staff member. Here they get to interact with other Ranchers while learning independent living skills such as cooking and cleaning. These homes are ideal for Ranchers who enjoy lots of social interaction. Supported Independent Living homes have a capacity of 1 or 2 and no live-in staff. Lone Star structures was able to help with this program by building six micro homes. Ranchers in these homes exercise a great deal of freedom and responsibility. They cook some of their own meals, decorate their own homes, and do other house chores.
I had the privilege to speak with three of the residents of DHR: Tom, Kelly, and Jim. They are all part of the Supported Independent Living program and live in micro homes built by Lone Star Structures.
Tom is a self-declared family man. He loves to talk about his family and play golf, which is something Tom did with his father before he passed away. When Tom first moved to DHR, he lived in a group home. However, he didn’t enjoy every aspect of living with five other guys. In Tom’s words, “They were a little bit funny sometimes.” So, in 2012, Tom was the first person to move into a DHR micro home. Here he was able to enjoy more personal space and learn responsibility. Tom said that his mother has often encouraged him to pursue responsibility.
One of the hardest things for Tom right now is that due to Covid-19, he has not been able to see his family. However, he has found encouragement in spending time with his girlfriend Kelly, another micro home resident, whom he met at DHR.
My first impression of Kelly was that she was a deeply caring person. And I don’t think I was wrong. When I asked her about her favorite things to do, she said, “My favorite thing is hanging out with this guy,” as she motioned to Tom. “We do everything together.” However, Kelly made it very clear that her and Tom make sure to include all their friends in their activities. Some of Kelly’s favorite hobbies are golfing, bowling, fishing, hiking, and swimming.
Before moving to DHR in 2018, Kelly was able to participate in Ranch Camp which gave a her a picture of what life was like at DHR. She then moved into a shared house but she struggled with having roommates. She was later able to transition into a micro house where she could be more independent while still having the option to call on people for help if necessary. After we had finished our interview, Kelly left me with some very beautiful and profound words. She said, “Even though I am Down Syndrome, I have learned over the years that you just have to accept yourself, and also, have to trust other people who understand you the most.”
“Even though I am Down Syndrome, I have learned over the years that you just have to accept yourself, and also, have to trust other people who understand you the most.”
Jim is a quiet and reserved person with a passion for art. He enjoys walking, riding bike, and drawing (especially horses). Jim is involved in entrepreneurial Enterprise program, which is a program at DHR where Ranchers design different items like mugs, keychains, and t-shirts using laser engraving and embroidering machines. These items are then sold on the DHR store. Jim was able to able to use one of his horse drawings on a shirt as part of the program. Jim came to DHR in 2010 and moved into a shared home. Then in 2014, he transitioned to a micro home. One of the best things that Jim says he has learned at DHR is how to be independent.
Future Plans for Down Home Ranch
Craig shared a little bit with me some of the future plans of DHR. One big thing that they plan to work on is bringing down the staff-to-rancher ratio. Because programs at DHR are so personalized, it is necessary to have a high number of staff. Part of this requires bringing on people with a variety of interests and skill to lead the many different programs that Ranchers want.
The second future plan for DHR that Craig shared was to add more micro homes. Because of the freedom and choice that it gives to Ranchers, DHR would idealize having micro homes available for every resident that is able to be independent. Many Ranchers want to live in a micro home but can’t because DHR hasn’t been able to build more. However, they hope to add several more micro homes for these Ranchers within the next five years or so.
How You Can Help
I sincerely enjoyed speaking with everyone at DHR and Lone Star Structures has been honored to work with them. DHR is doing an amazing and necessary work that is changing people’s lives.
Something that Craig shared with me towards the end of our conversation was the effect that Covid-19 has had on DHR. They have been forced to shut down many of their programs including Ranch Camp and Day Program. Because of this, resources are low and DHR has not been able to offer the same level of vocational services for Ranchers. I strongly believe in the work that DHR is doing and know that any donations would be put to good use. If you would like to donate to DHR, visit their store, scroll to the bottom, and give to the “Emergency Fund.”