Experience The Joy Of Giving In South Walton

It has been observed that the joy of giving lasts longer than the joy of getting.

Volunteering and supporting community organizations is one way to deepen social connections and an overall sense of belonging. It’s also a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. Just ask any volunteer in South Walton!

We are fortunate to belong to a strong community of groups and organizations focused on benefiting the people, places, and natural surroundings that make our area so special. There are numerous organizations to pick from, including habitat preservation, helping children and families, or bringing together a thriving arts community. 

CLICK HERE for a list of non-profit organizations you can support.

One such organization is Westonwood Ranch. A non-profit in Freeport, FL that provides learning opportunities for children and young adults with developmental differences. 

Founded in 2017 by Lindy Wood and named for her son Weston, Westonwood Ranch focuses on instilling lifelong abilities instead of disabilities for children and young adults with autism. All too often, children with autism graduate high school with little to no options to help them transition into adulthood, and Westonwood helps bridge that gap through its programs and resources.  

Like a "college model," participants have direct input into their unique learning curriculum by selecting from and participating in an array of diverse "life classes." Programs include hands-on training through their small business operations, including an Aquaponics farm and gourmet dog biscuit company, life skills training, community integration, and social skills learning opportunities.

Lindy's journey to Westonwood Ranch began just after she and her family of six moved to Freeport from Alabama in 2015 for her son to receive therapeutic services from Emerald Coast Autism Center (ECAC).  Weston was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age two. 

"Early on, I noticed Weston's unique bond with animals and the peace and tranquility nature provided him. From the time he learned to walk, Weston has been intrigued with nature, often pulling every eggplant from our small family garden and coveting it as a typically developing child does with a new toy. I watched him get eye-to-eye with our horses and explore every facial detail we all failed to appreciate or even recognize.

When your child is young and full of life and potential, it is hard to imagine how the simple work of planting a seed and harvesting vegetables could be worthwhile. If you are a parent, then you will understand how we have certain visions of success for our children, wanting them to reach their full potential as a doctor, a lawyer, and so on. Sometimes autism changes that vision.

Now that Weston is 7, I'm beginning to understand that for HIM, being able to take care of himself and perform simple tasks that serve a function in society would be an excellent outcome.

Today, if you ask me how it feels to watch Weston pick vegetables from the garden or watch him look eye-to-eye in an odd fashion with one of our horses, now I can truly see his POTENTIAL and a FUTURE. We want to accomplish that at Westonwood Ranch, to offer young individuals with autism the opportunity to learn task-oriented and employable skills in a nurturing farm environment."

While the organization is rapidly growing, there is a vital need for volunteers and funding. Volunteers can assist participants with the Aquaponics Farm, Animal Husbandry program, Day Programs, and new job training.  There is also an In-House Scholarship Fund that enables families who cannot afford these types of services to attend the programming with little to no financial burden. 

For more information on Westonwood Ranch and how to donate to the In-House Scholarship Fund, visit westonwood.org

Posted by Robin Maynard on
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