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Candlelight Ranch

Helping Children Learn, Explore and Heal through Nature

The magic of Texas Hill Country is undeniable. From the majestic live oaks and cooling rivers to the springtime wildflowers and golden sun, spending time outside here is to be forever changed.

When Don and Randy Barr purchased historic acreage on the north shore of Lake Travis as a family retreat in 1999, the two brothers and Don’s late wife, Jeri, set out to also create a 40-acre refuge for local underserved children to experience the beauty that is Central Texas. Their determination to share the land with those who would not otherwise have access to the calming influence of nature resulted in Candlelight Ranch.

Since then, the Ranch’s impact has grown exponentially. They now partner with more than 35 nonprofits and schools and have more than 230 volunteers. According to Executive Director Jenn Hartner, in 2022 alone they delivered “16,000 hours of direct programming to more than 1,791 children and their families, providing them with a day of fun, healing, learning and respite in nature.”

Their nature-based, hands-on programs serve children and their families, whose health, trauma or financial barriers would otherwise prohibit them from spending time in an outdoor environment. Ranch staffers listen to groups’ needs and tailor 1-, 2-, or 3-day visits to specific goals, such as building confidence or overcoming fears. Activities include ropes courses, equine-assisted learning, zip lining and hiking, among others. Monthly Military Family days are also available free of cost to service members and their families.

Campers notice increased self-confidence, empathy and patience after their visits. Moreover, groups report a decrease in stress with even just one day at Candlelight Ranch. The healing effects of nature and the guidance of the experienced staff cannot be overstated. One camper reflects, “Candlelight Ranch has helped me understand that I can still control my goals no matter what’s going on in my life, no matter all the chaos in my life. They believe in me and help me believe in myself.” Others confirm they would spend more time in nature as a result of their experience.

“It’s the smiles on kids’ faces, parents realizing their kids can do so much more than they thought and seeing our network of enthusiastic supporters grow to help communities in Central Texas that keep me going after almost 14 years here,” Jenn says. “Our hope is that we are instilling a love of nature and that our campers and volunteers will want to go home and replicate these experiences in their communities.”

Acknowledging that getting outside can be challenging for everyone, she suggests starting with a morning walk, listening to birds outside and visiting local and regional parks, such as the Wildflower Center and Pedernales Falls. 

In 2021, Candlelight Ranch joined the Colorado River Land Trust. With the Austin area’s explosive population growth and the resulting loss of green space, permanently protecting the organization’s 40-acres of land through conservation will preserve the Ranch experience for generations of Texans to come.

Candlelight Ranch is open to new partners, sponsors and volunteers, and their largest fundraising event is right around the corner! For how to get involved, more information on their annual gala, Light a Path, or how to host a corporate retreat at the Ranch, visit candlelightranch.org or follow them on social media @CandlelightRanch.

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