Committed to Youth and the Gift of Experience
by Catherine Madera
The most meaningful things in life are wrapped up in experiences, those that connect us to others and the natural world. These times form the foundation for a successful life, especially for young people. Unfortunately, facilitating such experiences is getting more and more difficult. According to a study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7½ hours. The concept of kids playing outdoors and having adventures, for some, is an old fashioned idea. In the United States youth spend, on average, only 4 minutes a day outside.
At Youth Dynamics, (YD) belief in the power of experience is alive and well and helping to change lives every day. YD is an organization that has been doing relational and adventure-based ministry with Northwest teens for over 40 years in 11 different communities. Their mission has never changed “To invite and challenge youth to a lifelong journey with Christ and His church. YD’s largest facility, Stonewater Ranch is located near Leavenworth, WA.
Once home to the Alpine Boys Ranch, YD moved many staff from Anacortes and officially launched Stonewater Ranch in 2006. It is a fantastic 158 acre property nestled in the heart of the Cascades. The very name of the place is an indication of its focus. Taken from the Bible (Ezekiel 36:26), Stonewater is committed to changing the heart and spirit of today’s youth with adventure-based experiences that will connect them with the tools necessary for a successful life.
Getting to the Edge
Stonewater Ranch’s primary focus is to provide quality adventures, leadership training and retreats through unique life changing experiences that are created around multi-day activities such as mountain climbing, backcountry travel, whitewater rafting and horseback riding. These adventures occur at Stonewater Ranch or in the breathtaking wilderness areas near Leavenworth. In a setting close to nature and far from a fast-paced and often stone cold modern world, real connection happens for both youth and adults.
“We talk a lot about the ‘edge moment,’” says ranch director Greg Johnson. “This is when kids come to a place of vulnerability while being stretched, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is the place where they ask hard questions and learn how to navigate life.”
Stonewater Ranch offers a multitude of outdoor adventures, leadership training and retreats of varying length for both youth and adults. For example, Leadership Pursuits (LP) is a special course for high schoolers focused on character and confidence building and includes the writing of a personal mission statement, along with various adventures. The Leadership Pursuit courses are either 12 or 21 days in length. In addition to the ranch’s adventure offerings and experiences, specialized “adventure combinations” can be created for church and other youth groups that are specifically focused on their objectives. Groups can choose to be in a building versus camping outside. Stonewater Ranch has two lodges that can sleep up to 70 people with year-round use. During the summer, dry camping is also available for up to 1,000 people.
Wintertime activities include cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, ice climbing, sleigh rides and even dog sled adventures. Lodges have fully furnished kitchens available for guest use, saving money and allowing for meals to be prepared when it best suits the group.
Time to Horse Around
No camp is complete without a horseback riding program. Stonewater Ranch owns 17 horses, including a draft horse team for wagon and sleigh rides, and offers multi-day adventures on horseback. Camps begin in April and finish in September; they offer life changing relational experiences for youth, many of whom have never ridden a horse.
“So many kids don’t trust anything or anybody,” says horse program manager Ken Solem. “The horses give us credibility right away and are an effective tool for building relationships.”
After a day spent riding and adventuring, Solem says the best part of camp occurs around the fire each night when kids can relax and ask direct and personal questions, all while experiencing creation and the companionship of others. Scholarships are available for youth that qualify and trips include gear, food and camping. Minimum age is 11.
“We want the kids to each feel loved and valued,” says Solem, “and we also give them time to be quiet and just listen.”
Horseback riding can be combined with other adventures for a specialized experience such as rock climbing one day and riding the next. Stonewater Ranch employs experienced staff who can work with guests in an individualized way. For adults who wish to come and ride, the ranch also allows haul-in of personal horses and can offer pasture space and dry camping for a nominal fee. Besides the trail riding on site, some of the best riding in the Northwest is available in surrounding wilderness areas that include Buck Creek Pass, Ken Solem’s favorite location to ride besides Yellowstone National Park.
Crafting the Experience of a Lifetime
Creating unforgettable adventures that focus on relationships and connection is the heart and passion of Stonewater Ranch. How can they best serve your organization or youth group?
“Decide what kind of experience you want,” says Greg Johnson, “and how much of it you want facilitated by our staff. What often makes the most sense is to choose one or two adventures and let our staff facilitate the whole experience. Then you can just enjoy the trip and those with you.”
The American Camp Association in their publication Camping Magazine has this to say about the power of the camp experience: ACA suggests there are three key elements of the camp experience that resonate with the societal needs that many are lamenting about today: connection to nature; real, primary relationships with others; and human-powered activity resulting in physical movement. These opportunities can be found in the DNA of the camp experience…”
There are nearly unlimited ways that Stonewater Ranch can help individuals, church groups, schools and other non-profits create an unforgettable experience. From day hikes to overnights and multi-day excursions, having food provided or providing it yourself, the ranch is there to serve visitors in any way they can. For more information about Stonewater Ranch visit www.yd.org/adventures. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-697-3847.
Invest in Tomorrow Leaders: Stonewater Ranch’s Scholarship Program
While some Northwest kids, such as 125 8th graders from Kings School in Edmonds, get the opportunity for a yearly trip to Stonewater Ranch, many of the kids who need it the most cannot afford to go. For them, there is an available scholarship program which pays up to 2/3 the amount of an opportunity such as the 5-day horse camp ($320, all inclusive).
“There is no comparison to the experience students have on an adventure; it’s often tough for them to even put it into words,” says Greg Johnson, who adds that it’s a fantastic opportunity to work with the “fringe” kids, the ones who are tough, street smart and often obnoxious, but have great leadership potential.
Stonewater Ranch is a non-profit so all donations are tax deductible. Donate here. Other ways to support the program include sponsoring a horse and contributing toward the purchase of a 20 foot gooseneck stock trailer. Contact Ken Solem email@example.com; 509-433-0022.
Come experience Stonewater Ranch for yourself and participate in the annual Rawhide Ride and Hoedown Fundraiser September 26, 2015. Bring a horse, collect pledges and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of this area on horseback. Camp for the weekend and enjoy food, a square dance, auction and cowboy church. Get involved with a ministry that is changing the lives of youth and equipping tomorrow’s leaders.
Published in December 2014 Issue
Catherine Madera served as editor of the Northwest Horse Source for five years. She has written for numerous regional and national publications and is a contributing writer for Guideposts Magazine and the author of four equine-related books. She has two grown children and lives with her husband and three horses in Northwest Washington.