Elijah’s Retreat celebrates 10 year anniversary

by Josie Fox josie@thecherokeean.com

Elijah’s Retreat is a 52-acre 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 non-profit retreat is located just five miles south of Jacksonville and allows families facing autism to explore nature, build fond memories and disconnect from the rest of the world for a little while. This year mark’s the 10th anniversary for the retreat and they are celebrating with a fall festival.

In 2019 Elijah’s Retreat hosted 204 Families and over 400 children with autism. The Fall Festival is a celebration and a fundraiser to help keep the cost at a minimum for the families visiting the retreat. Families facing Autism provide 30-50 hours of therapy for their child every week and spend thousands of dollars on sensory tools and modifications for safety every year.

The festival is scheduled for Nov. 16 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. All ages are welcome and admission to the event is free. Food and activities can be purchased using tickets. Activity tickets are $0.50 with activities ranging from one to six tickets. Food tickets are $1 each and the meals will range from six to eight tickets. The tickets can be purchased at the gate.

Planned activities include a live and silent auction, face painting, games, a barrel train, a petting zoo, music, vendors and more.

The silent auction will run throughout the day with the live auction beginning at 3 p.m. Auction items include Texas A&M football tickets for games in 2020, an autographed A&M football, tour for four at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium including locker rooms with one night stay at the Sheraton, Kendra Scott jewelry, spa package with one night stay at Fairfield Inn and Suites in Tyler, Houston Symphony premium tickets and one night stay including breakfast at Hotel Sorella City Center, hand crafted knifes, and rounds of golf at local courses.

Jacksonville mayor Randy Gorham will be the auctioneer and Boogie Butts Production will be the emcee for the festival. Event sponsors include Boogie Butts Production, Heath and Heath Hardware, JB’s Parties and Party with Characters, Willowcreek Custom Knives, Austin Bank, Southside Bank, Cornerstone Baptist Church and Harry’s Building Supplies.

There is still time to sign up for a vendor booth, with applications available online at elijahsretreat.com/fall-festival/.

The retreat, which began with a single cabin, opened in 2009 and was originally owned and operated by Jeff and Kathie Moore. 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 current owners and operators, Jason and Cheryl Torres in November of 2017.

“When we walked around the property with Mr. Moore, we were very excited.” Cheryl said during an interview earlier this year. “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.”

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.

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.