Candlelight Ranch was once run by a small but passionate group of volunteers. Founded in 1999 by Don, Jeri, and Randy Barr, the beautiful area on Lake Travis’s north shore intended to be a place to serve and support children and their families with terminal illnesses.
“I was introduced to Candlelight Ranch in 2006, shortly after losing my daughter, Reese, to a terminal illness. Although she was only here with us for six short months, she taught and instilled in me lessons in life that have grounded me,” says Development Director Tara Gray. “The doctor that took care of her fragile body but powerful soul had been a part of Candlelight Ranch since its inception. She invited my family out to the Ranch for a volunteer event.”
Gray then learned about the all-accessible treehouse on the property. She was presented with the idea that, if enough money was raised to pay off the treehouse, they may be able to dedicate it in her daughter’s memory.
“The minute I was told that, my life shifted. I was given a purpose, a channel to release my grief, and a way to give back to others,” says Gray. “In less than six months, we raised well over the amount and I became Board President. Now, the treehouse is named Reese’s Treehouse. There are days when we have programming out at the Ranch and I get to show families her treehouse while sharing the message of strength, hope, and love.”
The Barr family turned their mutual love of children and nature into a mission. Today, Candlelight Ranch aims to make these meaningful and magical experiences for everyone that steps foot on the property.
“The dream to transform the lives of those in need began humbly with a Hill Country property, hiking trails, and a few picnic tables,” says Gray. “Over the years, we have grown our facilities and steadily increased our reach to the community. We now serve around 1,700 individuals per year and partner with over 35 local non-profit organizations and schools.”
People of all ages and backgrounds come together to explore the unique plants, animals, and geology found on the 40-acre property. The nature-based curriculum at Candlelight Ranch provides an exciting window into our Central Texas environment.
“Plant hikes, recycling, gardening, fishing, animal and plant identification, macroinvertebrates, aquifers, and geology are a few examples of what we teach at the Ranch,” says Gray. “The majority of families we serve don’t have safe access to parks and greenspaces, or the financial means to participate in outdoor recreation activities. But time spent in nature has been proven to increase mental and physical wellness.”
The equine program, in particular, has made a big impact. Comet, the ranch horse, and Astro, the donkey, have captured the hearts of veterans who need to connect and share empathy, and have brought peace to many suffering from trauma. They have even helped a young non-verbal man learn to vocalize while working with them.
“Family Days and Military Family Days at Candlelight Ranch encourage families to disconnect from technology and the stressors of everyday life by taking time to just have fun and be in the moment together,” says Gray. “Our programs provide positive experiences that help families create joyful memories.”
If you want to participate in kayaking, crafting, and the many experiential games and activities Candlelight Ranch offers, head to candlelightranch.org to learn more. Now is the perfect time to expand your horizons and build connections.
“At Candlelight Ranch, we bridge the gap that challenges bring by providing a safe, affordable, and accessible space for children and their families to explore nature," says Gray.