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Deep in the Heart of Texas

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Down Home Ranch is a place where those with intellectual disabilities can live their lives to the fullest. 

By Madison Matous, Photo by Courtney Runn

In Elgin, Texas, there is a ranch that has become a haven for people with intellectual disabilities. Down Home Ranch gives its residents the tools to become active members of the community and live with as much or as little assistance as they need. They are encouraged to make their own decisions, work to become self-sustaining and build relationships. There’s a sense of stability and community, as many of the “ranchers” are there for the long term, with some there since the ranch’s beginning.

The ranch was started by Judy and Jerry Horton, and in many ways, their daughter, Kelly, who has Down syndrome. Like many parents of children with intellectual disabilities, they began to wonder about the future. What would happen when Kelly was finished with school or when they were gone?

With this in mind, the Hortons started researching, traveling the country to look at homes and facilities that catered to the needs of the intellectually disabled. They realized a pattern: Many of them were started by parents of children with disabilities. Inspiration struck and that is when the Hortons decided to build a place for Kelly and those like her.

“We wanted to create a place where [people with intellectual disabilities]can have the same kind of life as their brothers and sisters,” Judy Horton says.

In 1990, the Hortons bought 217 acres of land just outside Austin. The beginnings were humble, but soon enough, they knew they had built something special. Kelly, now 33, is very proud of the ranch her parents built and is quick to share that sentiment with visitors.

Today, the ranch has nearly doubled in size, expanding to 410 acres, with several group homes and individual micro-homes. This year, the Hortons plan to bring back Ranch Camp, a summer program, as well as create a program for more senior and long-term residents.

After more than two decades running the ranch, the Hortons have taken a step back and handed the reins to Development Director Courtney Ferris. Ferris’ background is in human development and family sciences, and before coming to the ranch, she was involved with similar organizations. She worked at The Settlement Home for Children, where she acted as the development associate, overseeing membership and donations, a role similar to the one she now holds at Down Home Ranch. Ferris says she felt drawn to both organizations because of the good they do and the people they help.

“You can’t have a bad day at the ranch,” Ferris says. “It’s a special place.”

In addition to providing services for those with disabilities, Down Home Ranch is a fully operational ranch known for its poinsettias. The ranch also sells Easter lilies, lettuce, tomatoes, free-range chicken eggs, beef and jams, among other items visitors can find at the gift shop.

Most recently, the Hortons introduced a monthly giving program that allows those in the community to contribute to specific items and activities, such as education, jobs and ranch housing. And this year, Down Home Ranch is adding a memorial garden complete with monogrammed bricks honoring the ranch’s supporters.

To learn more about Down Home Ranch or to make a donation, visit downhomeranch.org.

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