Special: a word that means so much more than the stereotypical meaning behind it. It is a word with various meanings: “distinguished by some unusual quality”; “readily distinguishable from others of the same category”; “designed for a particular purpose or occasion”; to name a few from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. The latter is a good definition to describe Jamie’s Ranch for Special Kids, a nonprofit organization, in McCoy, run by Roger and Sheri Mitzel.
“Our goal is pretty simple. We want our ranch to be a place where anyone can feel relaxed and have a smile on their face,” said Sheri, “We strive for everything to be fun, colorful, pretty, interactive and accessible.”
The Mitzels are a kind, fun and caring family who have opened up their home for special needs kids of all ages, young and old, to come out and experience things they have never experienced before.
‘If you build it, they will come.’ is a phrase you can find on their website from their May 17, 2017 blog post. They really have built something beyond beautiful on their 49 acres of land in McCoy and since its beginning days back in the early 2000s, Jamie’s Ranch surely has brought in a lot of special people through its gates, beginning with one special girl. The Mitzels began their journey to Jamie’s Ranch through the inspiration of their own daughter, Jamie Mitzel, who was special needs and passed away in 2009 from Batten disease: a fatal, inherited disorder of the nervous system that typically begins in childhood. She loved having her classmates visit her “country place”.
“It was so obvious how starved these kids were for the experience, the personal attention and a chance to get outdoors,” said Sheri.
The Mitzels hosted a spring party for special kids from Southwest ISD in San Antonio about 15 years ago.
“We were told by parents and siblings that possibly the child had never been invited to a party before. Or ever experienced something that was just for them and their enjoyment. We quickly discovered how appreciative and polite and excited these kids could get over the smallest things and that we enjoyed being the ones to give them these experiences.”
What first started out as a small invitation to their daughter’s classmates, slowly but surely turned into an organization the family invested their time, love, home and money into. Though their concept has been around for 15 years, “Jamie’s Ranch” itself has only been up and running since 2015. The first 13 years were mostly focused on the animals and how getting over the fear of them changes a child’s whole outlook of life most times. Guests can find animals of all sorts out at the ranch: dogs, cats, goats, llamas, alpacas, horses and donkeys. Today, activities at the ranch include arts and crafts, horse back riding, games, feeding the animals, a scavenger hunt hay ride, photo ops and live entertainment by Roger himself who has a band called “Borrego Creek”.
“We truly love having people and kids out and providing a getaway, if even for just a few hours,” said Roger.
Roger joined the San Antonio Fire Department in 1987 and has been in the department for 29 years, 23 of them in EMS. “My hope is to retire soon from the department so that I can spend more time doing this.” Jamie’s Ranch extends their open arms to every special needs kid in the community, surrounding them in a loving and warm embrace that makes them feel appreciated for being who God created them to be. However, they would not be able to open their gates had it not been for more than just the special kids who walk through their gates. Thanks to numerous donations (materials, animals, equipment) from locals, friends and strangers, Jamie’s Ranch has been able to provide amazing opportunities to the children of the community.
“Eventually we would love to have more social events. We’re constantly getting asked if we would ever be willing to put on dances. We would love to and hope to do so in the near future. We would also like to be able to offer a regular riding schedule for those that would like to ride a couple of times a month.”
From March-June, over 200 guests a month visited Jamie’s Ranch and they continue to grow every year thanks to everyone who has helped, encouraged and supported them along the way. The Mitzels want to stress to the Atascosa County community that Jamie’s Ranch is FREE for special needs kids, their families, friends and caregiviers.
“We would like this to be something for you to be proud to have in your county be something that you would be proud to recommend to any family,” they said. Their hope is to expand Jamie’s Ranch into areas of focus toward horse therapy, disabled vets, boys/girls clubs, foster children, etc. “While we concentrate on “special needs”, we don’t turn down any group. We recognize that there are all sorts of groups that could benefit from an experience such as ours but we need to grow our volunteer base before we can reach out to other groups. It’s important to us that whatever we do, we do it well. And while we have all these other areas we could see Jamie’s Ranch pursuing, we will only do as we have both the funds and the manpower to do them in the right way.”
Everyone who helps Sheri and Roger at the ranch are volunteers who give up their time to help make special kids feel appreciated for being who they are. The Mitzels ask for people to come and check out the place prior to bringing a group, because invariably they are surprised once they see it in person. If anyone would like to volunteer their time, Sheri and Roger would love to hear from them. You can contact them at (830) 570-6163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.