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Not Just Your Usual Clinic Venue - Welcome Home!

As we drive with the sun shining in our windscreen, we see the sign, Welcome Home Ranch, Make Yourself at Home.  What a warm greeting to match the warmth of the Arizona climate.  It’s a beautiful facility for a 5 day Cowboy Dressage clinic, hosted by Sindy Burke.  Sindy’s choice of venue was a complete match for Cowboy Dressage and our culture in more ways than one.  Welcome Home Ranch is also home to the John Volken Academy, which provides people in need with the opportunity to help themselves become successful, contributing members of society.  It was an amazing experience to hear the student’s personal stories and feel the two cultures of Cowboy Dressage and the Academy, both dedicated to helping people be successful, meld together during our time there.


The Academy program is modeled after the therapeutic community approach to addiction treatment and the students are enrolled in a highly-structured, long-term, disciplined program designed to retrain how they cognitively deal with challenges and make decisions.  We had the pleasure of meeting and working with several of the young men enrolled.  Students are men 18 years of age and older who make the decision to attend the 2-year program.  They come from a variety of backgrounds and all have their personal story of how addiction affected their lives and how they came to be students at the Academy.  We interacted with them in a variety of ways as they helped us set up and take down the challenge court, cooked and served our lunches, helped with audio/visual set up and troubleshooting, made sure we had what we needed and gave us a tour of the ranch.  Without exception these young men were polite, helpful, hard-working, articulate, clean-cut, open, honest and obviously committed to the program and becoming the best person they can be for themselves, their families, and their community.


A Therapeutic Community (TC) goes much further than simply helping individuals stop using drugs and alcohol. The Academy provides a supportive environment where students learn why they used and where they can develop all the tools necessary to stay sober.  The motto of this TC is “each one, teach one”. This implies that individuals assume responsibility not only for their own recovery, but also for the recovery of their peers. They recognize the recovery of each member is related to the recovery of all and conduct themselves accordingly—in turn, reinforcing their own recovery. Personal growth and proper living are achieved by peers serving as role models, providing support through interaction, and confronting each other in group sessions. By doing all of this, participants come to understand and resolve the cause of their addiction and also gain the tools they need to stay sober.


The ranch is an equestrian facility catering to horse boarding and special events.  They have four arenas, 120 boarding stalls, a hydro-therapy pool for horses and a feed store.  The students live on-site, manage the facility, help with events and are completely self-sufficient.  Everything about running and maintaining the facility is part of the student’s daily life.  These guys have amazing skills.  They can fabricate a stall panel or a building with their welding expertise, grow, preserve and cook their own food (they have gardens, pigs, steers and chickens), provide customer service and concessions during an event, run tractors, backhoes, and power tools, make their own furniture and carry on a deep and meaningful, honest conversation. These young men are more prepared for life than most young people you meet!


Our main go-to guy for the week was Zach.  Zach is 24 years old and has a desire to work in Public Relations.  He has been at the ranch about 16 months and is at the point in the program where he can take online college courses toward his goal.   Going to school is considered a privilege that is earned.   Zach enrolled in the Academy after recognizing that he needed help overcoming drug and alcohol addiction.    Students apply to the ranch and go through an approval process, including approval by the existing community.  They leave their former identity behind, receiving new clothes, a shaved head, removal of piercings, and are required to be clean-shaven every day.  Contact with their former lives, including families, is non-existent the first month.  Cell phones are not allowed.  After a month, the students can begin to write letters, eventually progressing to one phone call a month and finally face-to-face visits.  They begin to discover their new selves with support from their new community of peers, the ranch manager, the program managers and the Academy board members.  Board members generously donate their time to teach the students a variety of skills from sewing to music. Like all students, for the first month he was at the ranch, Zach shadowed an experienced student, learning the work schedule and how to accomplish the variety of tasks, but also learning about expectations.  Each student is called to hold other students accountable and they have group talks 2-3 times per week where all issues are brought up and discussed.  Through this process students learn to hold themselves and others to high standards and how to communicate honestly and openly about problems and find solutions.   As Zach has progressed through the various levels of the program, he has mentored other students, assumed leadership responsibilities in different areas and become a person whom he and others respect.   We enjoyed every moment spent with him as he shared his personal journey, the story of the ranch and Academy, helped us, fed us and made us believers in the program, just as he is.


If you’d like to learn more about this life-changing program, please check out their websites at http://welcomehomeranch.com/ or https://www.volken.org/.  The stories these young men share are truly inspirational. 


Our week in Arizona was inspiring in so many ways.  Our clinic participants had their own amazing stories to tell and coupled with what we learned about the ranch and students, we felt privileged to be part of it and spend time with these very special people.  Thanks to everyone for your generosity in sharing your journeys!

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