Embracing amazing: Elijah's Retreat
Located just five miles south of Jacksonville, Texas, is Elijah’s Retreat – a place that allows families facing autism to explore nature, build fond memories and disconnect from the rest of the world for a little while.
It is a magical place that strives to create a beautiful, peaceful setting for families to simply see the world through their child’s eyes as they explore nature and animals.
The 52-acre nonprofit retreat was originally opened in 2009 by Jeff and Kathie Moore and housed just one cabin. After Kathie passed away in December of 2009, Jeff continued their dream and expanded from the one cabin to three.
In 2017, Jeff had to put the property up for sale and did so in the hopes that whoever purchased it would continue his and Kathie’s dream by keeping Elijah’s Retreat open.
The retreat was purchased by Jason and Cheryl Torres in November of 2017 and to describe the family as new at this is an understatement. They had been Houston suburbanites for decades.
When asked what life was like with all of the animals, Jason laughed and said, “Life with the animals can be crazy. We had no prior experience and there has been a big learning curve. After we purchased the property, I immediately started Googling things like how to take care of goats.”
Karen Torres, Jason’s mother, said via e-mail, “We have the bemused feeling we are running an ark sometimes,” when referring to the various animals that also inhabit the ranch.
Karen lovingly describes the four-legged inhabitants as “a cranky donkey, a rooster who is certain he is Star Quality, a female Mustang who is clearly well aware they are all new to this, various mules, chickens, goats, Nigerian dwarf goats and two mini-Brahmin cows.”
Karen went on to say that a Cherokee County Extension Agent recently visited the retreat and provided them with information on the health of the lake, fields and animals.
Despite these challenges, Jason and Cheryl, along with their five children ranging in age from 16 months to 14 years, have taken on the responsibility of running not only a ranch, but a nonprofit.
When asked what led them to purchase the property, Jason said that the seed to purchase the property was planted by a coworker whose wife heard about Elijah’s Retreat while working with a local church.
“When we walked around the property with Mr. Moore, we were very excited.” Cheryl said. “The kids loved it here. We were looking for a way to work with and teach service to our children and the retreat was the answer. We knew we had to keep it going and to provide a positive place for families to come.”
Along with his work at Elijah’s Retreat, Jason is also a full-time firefighter in Pearland commuting 7 hours one way for a four-day rotating shift while Cheryl and the children live at the property full-time.
Elijah’s Retreat offers families affected by autism an opportunity to disconnect from schedules and simply see the world through their child’s eyes as they explore nature. Children with autism can find it difficult to adjust to transitions, change and loud noises. At the retreat, families are able to enjoy a peaceful setting where children can run and play in a safe environment, building bonds and creating memories.
For just $30 a night, each family stays in their own two-bedroom cabin with a full kitchen and laundry room. The cabins are built among towering pine and oak trees overlooking pastures with horses, donkeys, miniature cows and goats. The cabins feature a master suite with a Queen size bed, a child’s room with two Twin size beds and a pull out sofa in the living room. There is a full size kitchen, grill and fire pit with each cabin.
Families have access to multiple outdoor activities such as a fishing pond, 5 miles of nature trails, inflatable slides, a barrel train, playground and so much more. There is also an activity barn that offers a sensory room, basketball goal, ping-pong tables, foosball and room for special events.
Visitors can even go on a “Lil Ranch Hand Adventure,” providing families a chance to help feed the animals, ride and help brush the ponies and even hand-feed the Nigerian Dwarf goats.
Jason said that 13 families visited the retreat during Spring Break with all 13 families rebooking for either later in the year or into 2019. Reservations can be made on their website, which is frequently updated with cabin availabilities.
Previous guest Amy Whitecotton wrote, “There is nowhere more peaceful than Elijah’s Retreat. It is such a phenomenal place for autism families to relax, recharge and reconnect. This is such a blessed place and we are so grateful that we found it!”
Troyce Hamm Smedema wrote, “Vacations are stressful or just nonexistent for families affected with autism and this was the easiest and most meaningful one we have had! This place is amazing and offers something for all ages. The cabins come complete with games, toys and movies. Bring carrots to feed the sweet animals.”
When the Torres’s were asked what one message they would like everyone to receive about Elijah’s Retreat, they said it would be “attachments.”
“There are not a lot of places where families affected by autism can go together,” Cheryl said. “Here, there are no schedules. They can create their own adventures based on the needs of their family at that time. It isn’t about making money; it is about making those connections and memories.”
Elijah’s Retreat is always looking for individuals that would like to make a difference for families facing autism and help continue the work on this sanctuary. A list of their current projects and information on how to volunteer can be found on their website at www.elijahsretreat.com.