Fall & Winter Update 2022

December 13, 2022

Fall was jam-packed and joy-filled with Family Days, teambuilding retreats, holiday parties, camps for local non-profit partners, and our weekly community-based Outdoor Explorers program. Partners this season included CC4C, Creative Action, Boy Scouts of America, Integral Care, and Operation Exfil. Each group who visited experienced the benefits of time spent in the outdoors through high and low ropes course adventures, educational nature hikes, nature crafts, archery and EAGALA, a unique inspirational experience with our horse Comet and donkey Astro. Military families found much needed time together through our monthly Military Family Days, and the staff of the Texas Military Department Family Support Services (TMDFSS) visited the ranch for a multiday teambuilding and respite retreat. To read more about the TMDFSS’s experience out at the Ranch click here. Time in nature has been proven to relieve stress and increase well-being as one veteran reflected after their visit on Military Family Day, “I can’t describe how much my wife has needed this. She lost her mom in February and hasn’t been the same since. This was the first time I’ve seen her having sun since then. I’ve also been disabled for a year now and this was the first day of fun.” 

Our annual Fall Family Festival in October featured ranch activities and classic fall activities including hayrides, making scarecrows, painting pumpkins, and taking in the crisp fall air with hot apple cider. Families also took time to walk in remembrance of Kailyn, daughter, mother, and member of one of our Camp Dreamcatcher families. This walk helped support increasing the awareness of domestic violence. To learn more about Kailyn’s story and how you can help “change the way the story ends,click here.

In November, Candlelight Ranch hosted a small group of families directly affected by the Uvalde Elementary School shooting for a weekend retreat. Families were able to relax together while enjoying the campfire, live music, a star party, and all the activities of the Ranch. Licensed Professional Counselors joined us and provided additional resources to families. The outpouring of community support for these families was tremendous, from meals to transportation, the Uvalde families were very well taken care of. Families were able to relax, spend much needed time away from daily stressors, and simply have fun. One young man exclaimed after getting off the ziplines that “this is the best day of my life.”

In December, we celebrated the Holiday Season with our annual family holiday celebrations. Families gathered from all over Central Texas to spend time together and find the spirit of the holidays with fun in the outdoors.  Families worked together creating unique wreaths, enjoying memorable hayrides, singing carols, and celebrating Christmas cheer together. Hot cocoa, holiday cookies, and tamales, all Texas traditions, were appreciated and ensured full bellies all around. Mr. and Mrs. Claus, along with their elves, made sure every child went home with a beautifully wrapped gift. It certainly was a great weekend, filled with joy for all who participated!

We want to say a big thank you to our wonderful volunteers, board members, and organizations that helped make this event possible! Co-Founders Randy and Don Barr drove the hayride and led the hunt for the best cedar Christmas tree that could be found on property. Volunteers Paula Richards and Bob Rose helped families shake hesitations and find their voices while leading carols. Advisory Council member Aaron Persons along with his wife Cheryl, led wreath making and served and cleaned up from lunch. Volunteer Pam Rodgers led the very popular reindeer craft, which was a huge hit for both parents and kids! Volunteers Maile Noble, Sarah Villaronga, Eli Cline, and Sam Litchfield connected with families one on one, led crafts, helped children decorate cookies, and ensured that everyone they met had their best day ever out at the Ranch. A very special thanks to the organizations that helped make our holiday parties magical.  Thank you, Lago Vista Women’s Club for beautifully decorating the Ranch, and Young Men’s Service League (Four Points Chapter) and National Charity League (North Austin Chapter) for their energetic help leading carols, serving hot cocoa, and helping bring cheer to our children and families!

Gift giving is often part of the holiday season but for many of the families we serve, financial insecurity makes it difficult to make holiday wishes come true. Because of the generosity of our volunteers and sponsors, every child in attendance went home with a brand-new toy! A very special thank you to Expeditors Austin for their incredible donations of gifts. Their generous employees funded, shopped for, and then wrapped gifts for the children. Thank you, Expeditors Austin, for providing so much excitement and joy! We also want to highlight and thank Jack and LuAnn Gilmore, along with their grandchildren, who dressed as Christmas elves and gave gifts to our youngest campers, bringing Christmas cheer to all they met. Stephanie Weber made many wishes come true by supplying our Camp Dreamcatcher teen campers with items from their Christmas wish lists. During the holiday party, teen campers came to the “CLR Christmas Store” and picked out gifts of their choice. This is a true highlight of the year for our campers!

As 2022 comes to an end, and the nights grow long and the plants and animals of the Ranch rest in hibernation, our programs will also take a rest for the Winter season. We look forward to the Spring for a full season of programming, getting children and their families out in nature to enjoy special moments together. Until then, we wish you, your loved ones, and all of those we served over this incredible year, a joyful holiday season and a very happy New Year!