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Returning to Reining Liberty - Service comes full circle in our community

By Cathye Williams, YouthWork Americorps Coordinator

My first experience with Reining Liberty Ranch (RLR) came when I was desperately seeking help for a young client in the Wraparound Program at Child and Family Services (CFS). This young woman had blown through therapists, been hospitalized multiple times, kicked out of school, and was a threat to herself and her family. When I met her she was 11. Through a series of haphazard connections, and about to give up, I reached a former CFS foster parent who had just begun working with RLR doing therapeutic horsemanship with veterans.

The group had just moved its young mission center to Traverse City, and had purchased stables, pastures and a farmhouse that had seen better days. In spite of all that the veterans and founders of Reining Liberty dealing with, they didn't hesitate to sit down to talk with me about my client's needs and what RLR could do to help. What followed was not just life changing for my client and her family - it also led to a partnership program that allowed 10-12 Wraparound youth and other members of their family to take part in a healing service project every year for the next 7 years - and it’s still going strong.

Reining Liberty took the model - based on what they were already doing for veterans in programs like Horses for Heroes, and tailored it to help other groups in need. The program is 2 pronged. Youth with special needs spend 2 hours a week at the Ranch. One hour is spent learning relational horsemanship skill- working with horses on the ground, reading communication cues and bonding with the animals. The power of this experience for most of our youth is transformative. The other hour is spent doing a variety of service projects at the Ranch, all designed and led by veterans, providing mentorship, and showing them what "service above self" looks like.

The veterans of Reining Liberty are using their many diverse skills to create a healing oasis for their fellow servicemen and women and for others in the community seeking refuge from trauma. They care for and rehabilitate the horses and other livestock on the property, improve and innovate the infrastructure to provide space for projects and programs, and practice environmental stewardship to restore the soil and sustainable potential of the property.

Veterans Garden at RLR

I have always been in awe of the service that takes place at Reining Liberty and how they have amplified their positive outcomes through partnership, skills, and creativity. That's why several years later, when I landed at Youth Work and began learning about the rich history of conservation corps and national service, I knew that these two programs were made to connect. Now YouthWork crews are at Reining Liberty 2 days a week- with anywhere from 11-15 members serving 8-32 hours weekly - while learning and growing. They help the vets, but also learn so much from them, and all gain healing from the earth, the animals, the safe haven, and the service.

This spring, RLR Director Becki Bigelow and Ranch “Mom” Kathy Huseltine teamed with YouthWork to sponsor a special service event for Global Youth Service Day. Youth volunteers worked in teams of 2-5, paired with adult volunteers, Reining Liberty staff, and crew leaders all over the property. Participants finished all projects slated for the day, and made new friends. Many who had never heard of the Ranch were in awe of the community cooperation evidenced there. Kathy teared up when thanking volunteers at closing time. She stated that she didn't know how they ever would have gotten the work done without this project. She explained how assisting with the upkeep and expansion of RLR allows the organization to focus more on the core mission of Reining Liberty, which is to support and care for the veterans.

All told "Spring into Service" engaged 61 volunteers, 42 of whom were youth and included 19 current and 3 alum Americorps members! We had a great time celebrating service and partnership while helping Reining Liberty prepare for the busy months ahead.

For more information about YouthWork, visit:

Spring into Service Crew

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