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Inside The Joy Ranch

March 9, 2012, 10:04 PM by Austin Hoffman

Inside The Joy Ranch
WATERTOWN, SD -

After 10 years of planning and over three years of building, Joy Ranch is opening its doors this summer.

Nestled in the quiet South Dakota prairie near Watertown, Joy Ranch is designed as a getaway for families with special needs.

"When you come to the ranch here, it's a step back in time," Joy Ranch benefactor Joy Nelson said.

It looks like a one Main Street town resting on top of a central South Dakota hill.  And while it's Wild West look may be the first thing you notice, the bigger picture is much harder to see.

Joy Ranch was Nelson's idea.

"We identified like 20,000 people that were in need of a facility like this just within 100 mile radius of the I-29 corridor. So a two-room facility just didn't cut it," Nelson said.

The ranch, from top to bottom, is completely barrier free and handicap accessible.

"There are families that like to go to a camp or a planed retreat.  They may have an aging parent, you know, that has mobility issues that has never been able to participate with the kids before," Nelson said.

Or families with a child with special needs child who have never been able to go to a place quite like this. Co-Director Betsy Debertin says it took a lot of work making it happen.

"Everything from what height tables do we purchase for our dining to what type of shower fixtures do we need. Where should we hang towel bars?" Debertin said.

But the ranch isn't limited to special needs visitors. It can host corporate retreats, weddings and specialty camps all at the same time with room to spare. Each side of the street also serves its own purpose. One is for families and adults; the other is just for children.

"There are 16 rooms each with two queen-size beds and then in the bunk houses there are four bunk-houses, each that has ten beds. So there’s a lot of space," Debertin said.

Loren Odland is a pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church Sioux Falls. He's here with some of the staff looking at how they can work together better.

"This is our first time. Most of us had no idea what to expect; some of us had been here in various stages of construction, but we’re just absolutely amazed by the detail, the hospitality, as well as the quality of the facility," Odland said.

He says the ranch is exactly what they're looking for and even offers more than they really need.

"In very many ways. It provides a variety of settings for us to do things, whether it's a formal presentation, small group discussion areas, time to just relax," Odland said.

There are many possibilities of things to do at the ranch. But one thing that sticks out above the rest is, of course, the horses.

"There have documented cases of children who have not spoken in years that after they've bonded with a horse are able to speak, able to communicate. The physical attributes that horsemanship can do for disabled kids is very well known. So all those programs will go here for the kids, too," Nelson said.

Nelson has been a horse lover her entire life. It's a passion she wants to share with children who may not be able to have that experience. Odland says their main goal is to let everyone walk away with an experience they won't forget.

"We want them to take away that they felt they could be a part of everything that was going on. We want them to feel included," Odland said.

The Ranch's decor came from scouring eastern South Dakota and donations. If you're wondering about the land, it's a donation from its namesake Joy Nelson.

"Sometimes in life, I think you find yourself holding the tools to help correct something in the world, if you just recognize it. I guess that's the position I found myself in and I wanted to help those people," Nelson said.

The ranch is open for business.  Learn more about it at the Joy Ranch website.

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