Erik's Ranch & Retreats Caters to Residents with Autism
Edina and Minneapolis boast plenty to keep our visitors from out-of-town busy. There are the lakes, the mighty Mississippi, the museums and the world-class retail at The Galleria. Add to that list a unique guesthouse and tour company that combines hospitality and philanthropy into one.
Guests at Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, which will occupy one of four buildings that now comprise the Heritage of Edina Senior Living Community, will be treated to the kind of quiet, comfortable rooms and impeccable service that you would expect in any boutique hotel. What’s more, these guests will actually be volunteers playing a vital role in the lives of the 35 resident-staff, all of whom are living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
“This will put Edina on the map,” says Kathryn Nordberg, founder of Erik’s Ranch and Retreats. “The whole idea of ‘voluntourism’ has been around for quite a while now. You can go off and build a house with Habitat for Humanity. You can go work on a farm for a week. As far as we know, though, we’re the only one doing anything like this.”
Apart from their duties welcoming and giving personalized attention to each guest throughout their stay, the residents at Erik’s Ranch will also function as personal tour-guides for the guests. Here’s the twist: rather than structure tours around what’s great about the Twin Cities, Erik’s Ranch will build its tours around the passions and talent of its guides.
Jimmy, an 18-year-old guide and artist, will treat his guests to a tour of a gallery where his art is displayed and appetizers are served. Afterward, he’ll speak about his artistic process and take questions from his audience. Thad, 28, will guide his guests on a walking tour of St. Paul while he expounds on the architectural marvels of the city. Maddy, a 24-year-old woman, will gallop her guests around Canterbury Downs, while talking horses and horse racing. Her tour includes a meet-and-greet with a jockey and a ride around the winner’s circle.
This person-first approach, says Nordberg, represents a new and novel approach to treating and integrating into society individuals with ASD. It is something she was inspired to do from her own experience as a mother contemplating the future of her son, Erik.
“Every parent who has a disabled child asks this question: ‘What happens when I’m gone?’ When I looked around at the options, I didn’t like what I saw.”
Nordberg felt that only offering opportunities for interaction wouldn’t be enough.
“Most of the models are structured around center-based operations where disabled people go and sort things and put things in bags. That works for some people. But for a lot of others, it doesn’t work at all.”
Because communication and forming relationships can be difficult for those living with ASD, Nordberg wanted a treatment model that addressed those needs foremost. The prospect of spending several days engaged in a meaningful way with guests has exciting implications for the residents’ needs to be more socially integrated.
“And when you leave,” says Nordberg, “if you are willing, we will keep you connected with the resident via Facebook or some other social media. And think about it. You’re just one guest in one week. Think of all the guests that they are each going to take care of. See what happens to his social circle. It grows.”
Nordberg has been running the Heritage Senior Living Community, along with her mother, for more than a decade. While Erik’s Retreat will not be livable until sometime next year, the Twin Cities’ tours have been in full swing since May.
“Erik’s Christmas card list is going to be way longer than mine. And it’s because of the guests, not because of me. ” That, thinks Nordberg, is the way it should be.
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