Spring Break Successes

April 7, 2022

In March Candlelight Ranch hosted Spring Break Day Camps for the families of Austin Angels, Austin Smiles and Camp Dreamcatcher.  This fun and jam-packed week also included Military and CLR Family days. Over Spring Break, over 250 children and their guardians participated in the joys of outdoor play and education while learning how to kayak, fish, shoot archery and much more!

We kicked off our busy week with a meaningful day of teambuilding for the mentors and mentees of Austin Angles. The mentorship program is designed for teens aging out of the foster care system and matches them to young adults who have also aged out of foster care.  Through mentorship, the young adults provide a nurturing support system to guide the teens through the trials of early adulthood. At Candlelight Ranch, the mentors and mentees bonded during this program’s first ever gathering and provided opportunities for young people to connect and support one another in overcoming the current challenges they all face. An embodiment of the new relationships formed could not be better illustrated than that during their adventures on the High Ropes Course. During the challenge of the “Dangling Duo” mentor and mentee worked together to climb an element that alone is impossible to master but through communication, hard work, and a lot of bravery these mentor/ mentee teams rose to the challenge and accomplished goals they never thought possible. During the Canyon Crawl (a cable bridge across our 80ft deep canyon) campers, one step at a time, overcame fears and embraced personal challenge with the support of their peers cheering behind them. Reflecting on their day’s experience one mentor exclaimed, “That was the most fun I think I’ve ever had!”

Continuing our Spring Break Week, Austin Angles families joined us for four days of fun in the sun! For one family currently fostering six children of multiple ethnicities, Candlelight Ranch has become a haven to bond, explore, and have fun.  Their mother reflected that often when her family goes out to run errands or simply to have a fun day together, strangers ask the children why they are different from each other or “who their daddy is”. One can only imagine the anger and frustration of a loving parent and confusion of the child during these unnecessary interactions. Parents discussed the challenges of raising a mixed-raced family and reflected that while at the ranch they could enter an environment without judgment, and truly they could take the day to relax and have fun together as a family. Upon reflection the mother testified that she and her family greatly looked forward to their trip to the Ranch all week, stating “Thank you for giving this peaceful place for us to share a day with our kids without busyness and a place where people don’t stare.”

Near the end of the week families from our Camp Dreamcatcher, which has provided children in foster care or who have experienced trauma a 3-day 2-night camp experience each summer for the past six years, returned for a spring reunion.  Our Dreamcatcher families had time to catch up with friends and rejuvenate from life’s challenges. Our Dreamcatcher families joined us from across Central Texas, some families driving from as far as Conroe to spend the day at the Ranch. Many fun activities were enjoyed, but the most exciting of all was the catching of a Gasper Goo, a freshwater Texas native fish with a fun name, that had never before been caught at the Ranch until that day!

Austin Smiles of the Austin Plastic Surgery Foundation wrapped up our Spring Break Camps.  Austin Smiles is a local non-profit whose mission is to provide sustainable surgical and pos-surgical care to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate both in Central Texas and Latin America. Campers explored the outdoors, experiencing ziplines, kayaks, and archery for the very first time while guided by volunteers who also had undergone cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries as young children. Many children worked through fears as they braved the ziplines and connected with our horse Comet and donkey Astro, discovering that new experiences and friends can be fun and rewarding!

Throughout the entire week, children and families learned about Central Texas Native Wildlife from volunteer partner organization, the Texas Master Naturalists of the Highland Lakes Chapter. Our amazing Master Naturalist volunteers gave over 110 hours of service, in just one week!  Volunteers led archery, taught about Native American sacred gardens, presented native wildlife touch tables and taught Texas Fish & Wildlife curriculum including Backyard Bass, the watershed table and other valuable nature-based education. Our partner and neighbor, Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, shared their “Mobil Ranger Station” and with their talented intern Andreas, captured the attention of both child and parent while teaching Refuge Programming on birding and binocular use. The “Mobil Ranger Station” is an exciting new addition to Refuge Programming which carries on the go educational activities including the Junior Ranger Program that educates families about the Texas natural environment and the importance of preserving wild spaces.  We are so grateful to our volunteers and partners for making Spring Break 2022 a massive success.

Spring Break camps were a wild success that touched the lives of many Central Texans in need of respite, retreat, and fun in nature. The rest of our spring is busy, as the wildflowers bloom, butterflies and birds return, we look forward to serving many more children and families out at the Ranch this April and May.