Nature Fun Ranch: An adventurous nature-based youth programme that motivates, challenges and promotes positive lifestyle choices
For many young people in Barbados, there are few positive outlets. Jobs are hard to come by and many are left bored and increasingly at risk of taking a negative path.
Widespread gang culture and too many negative lifestyle options
Young people are too often caught up in the dangers of gang wars, dog and fowl fighting and drug-related activities that are happening on their doorstep. As a consequence, countless lives have been lost to gun violence and many young people are at risk of underachievement at school, and even imprisonment.
A chance to build self-esteem and explore strengths through nature, learning and adventure
In 1998, five teenagers who were collectively frustrated by the lack of positive options available decided to act. They founded Nature Fun Ranch, an outdoor fun-filled education and development programme with the aim of giving at-risk youth the opportunity to learn and develop new skills; reconnecting them with the natural world and raising their self-esteem.
Corey Lane and the team started small, with just one horse, 20 rabbits and a few garden beds for planting lettuce. However, they were quickly convinced that they were providing something different and special for young people that, importantly, was both safe and fun.
Over time, Nature Fun Ranch has expanded to now include adventure activities such as kayaking, camping and caving, alongside courses as varied as gardening, recycling and farming. This growth has provided even more opportunities for young people to explore their abilities and broaden their horizons.
Young people rejecting gang culture in favour of positive lifestyle choices
Nature Fun Range engages with young people on a long-term basis, because they realise that change doesn’t happen overnight. Through the programme, young people become Ranchers and take on responsibilities such as animal care and farming crops. Turning away from gang culture, they find instead at Nature Fun Ranch a different kind of family; one that promotes self-worth and is safe and rewarding. Ranchers attend after school during the week, on weekends, and throughout school holidays providing a sense of purpose and belonging.
Nature Fun Ranch helps young people find a passion and then trains them in that passion. When their time at the Ranch comes to an end, young people can pursue work or set up their own enterprises in the field that they like best. Many Rancher graduates now own and run their own smallholdings and fish farms. One, with a love of horses and riding, is even a jockey in Canada. Because of the work of Nature Fun Ranch, more young people in Barbados are recognising and fulfilling their potential every day.
Founder and Chief, Nature Fun Ranch
How did it all start?
We wrote and met with everyone we could; agencies, businesses, anyone we thought could help. A business offered us land that was too far away at the time, and one donated used life jackets from their hotel that was shutting down. This however, gave us a boost of confidence.
We did some small fundraisers like cake sales and car washes. What we quickly realised was that we needed to make do with what we had and we had to be very creative.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
HRH The Duke of Sussex came to visit us in December 2016. This was hugely significant for us. It sent a big signal to Barbados and the world that Nature Fun Ranch was doing the right thing. The Duke of Sussex told us that our work is unique. This coming from someone who is well-travelled and in touch with numerous causes around the world singled us out. This message of support, this endorsement of what we are doing really inspired our whole team here, particularly the Ranchers. HRH’s words had a significant impact on them. It made them think what is possible.
What is even more powerful is that he checks in with us every once in a while. This means the world to us and boosts our motivation that we can do this, that we can reach our goals and strive to go from strength to strength, higher, bigger and better.
What was your greatest challenge?
Nature Fun Ranch's greatest challenge has been the pace of doing business, red tape, and getting assistance. We found it difficult to raise money so used our own resources.
Our proposals were too confusing for funders as we were trying to cover everything that we wanted to do. From day one we presented a very ambitious plan and we assumed everyone would see the vision the same way we did. This caused the organisation to spend years, much energy and time, chasing unicorns. We learnt that it is better to present mini projects with timelines, and also that it is okay to be upfront and seek a 'no' if it is a ‘no' to save lots of time. We also found a way to balance being too pushy and annoying, and being too laid back and being forgotten. Our communications have got better and we can move our projects around during the year, depending on when donors are ready help.
This flexibility worked really well – and funding started to come our way.
What’s next for your project?
Our vision for the future is a state-of-the-art Ranch, facilitating the dreams and goals of the youth and members of the community, to strive for excellence as we teach them how to live and not just exist.
I see Nature Fun Ranch as a facility lead by young people; engaging young people to be the best. Working with all stakeholders, working with 'at-risk' youth to give them that 180-degree turn they need.
This future for Nature Fun Ranch is led by young people, engaging young people to be the best they can be in whatever field they are passionate about.
What top three things helped your venture succeed?
Vision. A clear vision is needed. We started with our end-point in mind and, as we learned along the way, we created a business plan with clearly defined objective, goals, timelines, projects and implementation plan. Though the vision and core values are somewhat written in stone, the methodologies, goals and objectives can be enhanced and updated from time to time as necessary. This is important, because times change and generations will have different requirements – but the vision and belief in young people remains the same.
Structure. A clear structure and a good governance framework is critical and should be developed from the start. This addresses the structures and systems in place to ensure continuity, proper records, accountability and transparency. This is important to attract partnerships and funding. Included in these structures are: proper registration, good constitution/by-laws, audited accounts, a sound Board, organisation chart that is understood by all, marketing plan, good training and means for review from all levels of the organisation. We put this in place from the start and it is part of how we do things here.
Resources. It is important to know what resources are required and where it is coming from. It is also important to have a plan A, B, C…. Assistance in kind has proven to be a great way to incre our resources, as we have learnt that many people are more willing to donate things, rather than hand over cash. This also helps with reporting and accounting. Another point to note is that sponsors generally prefer a specific, measurable, realistic project with timelines, as opposed to very general projects - no matter how good they are. This insight has really helped us to save time – writing clear proposals for tangible outcomes.
Working together to make a difference
The Nature Fun Ranch is achieving great things, and for us to play a small part in helping them offer more to vulnerable children has been a huge privilege. We have learned a great deal from working with Corey – not least gaining an extraordinary insight into Nature Fun Ranch's optimism, energy and hope.
Nature Fun Ranch's governance and systematic way of working, with a clear accountability to the young people they are supporting, is an inspiration to us and an example to the wider sector.
Nature Fun Ranch started with a burning ambition to help young people who faced the challenges and risks many of us cannot begin to imagine. Not trying or giving up, even in the face of substantial obstacles, simply was not an option for this uniquely and perfectly imagined programme. Our work has shown us just what can happen when partners aligned around a common vision come together to pool resources, ambition and drive.
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