As we begin the new year, we continue to experience a grave health crisis, food and housing insecurity, political unrest and systemic injustice. We also struggle individually to maintain our jobs, care for our families and protect ourselves from the virus. During times like these, it can be hard to look outside our personal situation or find the energy to do more. But as I think back on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service observed earlier this month, I realize there are many things large and small we can do to help others and make a difference.
I recently had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a foundation that, despite the pandemic, is continuing to offer support for people in the community who have suffered trauma. Through the generosity of my friends, Col. Edward Gallowitz (US Army Ret.) and Lt. Col. Kathy Lowry Gallowitz (US Air Force Ret.) (whose advocacy for military members and veterans I previously profiled), I had the privilege of visiting Rancho Milagro, which translates to Ranch of Miracles. Founded in 2015, by Executive Director Vanessa Kohnen and her husband Robert Kohnen Jr., the mission of the Rancho Milagro Foundation is “empowering all people we encounter through the gift of equine therapy and coaching. We are committed to impacting our community, state, nation, and the world by ‘renewing hearts and minds to thrive in the arena of life.”
Vanessa, a retired Fire Department paramedic and an eagala-certified life coach, has a lifelong passion for horses. A childhood trauma survivor herself, she conceived of Rancho Milagro as a haven for other trauma survivors by tapping into the sensitivity and healing power of horses. The core values of the Ranch are reflected in the “Milagro” (Miracle) name:
- Mentorship: Delivering tools to advance personal growth and direction
- Integrity: Accountable to people and partners we serve
- Leadership: Inspiring people to find the courage to take the “reins of life”
- Activation: Experience renewed momentum by awakening all senses
- Guidance: Highlighting the “stepping stones” to a solid foundation
- Refuge: A peaceful place to reflect and be refreshed
- Organic: Tailor-made to meet individual and group needs
To advance these principles, the team at Rancho Milagro offers personalized equine therapy, life coaching, team building, pastoral counseling and an array of other services.
Vanessa and Robert are committed to providing a refuge for abuse victims, veterans, first responders and others who have endured unspeakable ordeals and are living with the long-term effects such as anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For example, the Ranch’s restorative benefits for survivors are profiled in the feature film “Amber and Grace” about a young woman victimized by sex traffickers. The film traces the woman’s ordeal and how she begins to heal through her therapeutic relationship with a horse. As Vanessa notes, “horses are intuitive and they mirror human behaviors.” By doing so, horses allow people facing stress and anxiety to become more aware of what they are feeling, the first step in healing and moving ahead. Vanessa shares that “today’s world is a harsh reality so to soften this reality Rancho Milagro strives to support each unique individual with open arms and a loving embrace. Everyone deserves a refuge from the feelings that are too overwhelming to bear alone.”
The Ranch is a sanctuary located in the desert of Rio Verde, Arizona, with breathtaking views of the nearby Mazatzal Mountains. If you are close by, the Ranch has opportunities for volunteering even during COVID-19. The team, including the beautiful horses, need help with feeding, exercising and grooming the equine “therapists”, maintaining their stalls and working in the communal garden. The Ranch also hosts a variety of small private dinners onsite or at your location as a source of fundraising. After attending a private dinner at the Ranch, you cannot help being inspired by Vanessa’s strength and passion for providing a pathway forward for others who have endured unbearable experiences. Rancho Milagro is hosting two upcoming events to raise funds for the Foundation so its important work continues: “Dinner Under the Stars Farm to Table” on February 13 (with the North Scottsdale Farmers’ Market) and “Mingle 4 Miracles” on March 20. The team and those who benefit from this haven appreciate any support we can give so that trauma survivors can continue to receive care and encouragement to overcome their painful pasts and start new chapters in their lives.