Erik’s Ranch: Operated by Young Adults with Autism

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, a non-profit providing living, working, social and recreational environments for young adults with autism is featured on the current season of “The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals.” The hit Netflix series documents unique rental properties. In season two, streaming now on Netflix, Erik’s Ranch & Retreats’ Montana ranch is featured in an episode focused on philanthropic vacation destinations.

BY Kathryn Nordberg | October 2021 | Category: Employment & Transition

Erik’s Ranch: Operated by Young Adults with Autism

I founded Erik’s Ranch & Retreats in 2008 as an avenue to provide my adult son, Erik, limitless possibilities in a safe and secure environment. As Erik was approaching adulthood, I quickly found that there were few good options for moderate to high-functioning young adults with autism, including those with Asperger’s syndrome. Over the course of several years, I worked with a team of psychologists, attorneys, architects and marketing and business professionals to develop an innovative model for young adults with autism: Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, with locations in Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, and in Montana’s Paradise Valley, not far from Bozeman.

Our model provides safe and unequaled living, working, social and recreational environments for young adults with autism, using our guiding principles of lifelong learning, individual community building, and bidirectional integration through “voluntourism.” We’re committed to giving these individuals a rewarding life on their own terms, experiencing dignity, compassion and the joy of continuing possibility.

Erik’s Ranch & Retreats is not only home to young adults with autism, but these young adults also operate boutique- and ranch-style guest accommodations in two locations: Edina, MN and Livingston, MT. People from all over the world, and sometimes right next-door, stay in our one-of-a-kind guest accommodations.

Located just 45 minutes outside of Yellowstone National Park, Erik’s Ranch offers guest accommodations, including two contemporary guesthouses, a secluded lodge, a creek-side cabin, and more.  Young adults with autism are not only guests’ personal concierges, but also lead experiential tours for guests that tap into their myriad abilities and passions, including trail rides, hikes, fly fishing, and rafting. Guests learn about all that those with autism can do while offering them a meaningful place in society. The program is a paradigm shift for the entire country that promotes the worldwide integration of those on the autism spectrum.

We were so excited that what we’re doing at Erik’s Ranch caught the attention of the production team of The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals. When we heard that they were looking to do an episode on philanthropic vacation destinations, we knew it was meant to be. That very concept was a big part of the vision and inspiration for our Montana location. Having the film crew and hosts so genuinely engaged with our members, and helping them to shine, was really fun to watch. Our members are amazing individuals and we’re thrilled that they get to share this special place, and their many talents with an even wider audience. During filming, we were able to work with Megan, one of the hosts who specializes in DIY design, to help us with ongoing improvements and expansion on the property. Even before appearing on the show, we had an overwhelming amount of interest in the property and knew that our next move would be to add new guest houses to allow for more guests and, more important, more members.

Of course, renovations and new construction are very expensive, and current labor shortages make this a huge challenge. To complete our expansion, we need to raise $1.2 million. We are calling on our supporters and those interested in “voluntourism,” to consider gathering a group and take a mission trip to Erik’s Ranch. Mission trip “voluntourists” work alongside the young adults on the autism spectrum that call Erik’s Ranch & Retreats home, directly investing in their futures. Projects range from fence repair, to landscaping, and renovations. Booking fees are collected as a donation to cover lodging, meals, transportation from the airport, building materials, and recreation.  

Another way we are looking to expand our offerings is by creating a “glamping” (glamour camping) experience by adding two new yurts to our property. With the help of many, we plan to start offering “glamping” experiences in the yurts by May of 2022.

More than 12 years have passed since we started this work, and I’m so grateful for where we are today. It’s every parent’s dream to see their child thrive. I hope my work toward making that dream come true for my son will create a path to help many more young adults with autism live their best lives.

Check us out on streaming, visit our website, or better yet, come see Erik’s Ranch for yourself.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Kathyrn Nordberg founded Erik’s Ranch & Retreat in efforts to provide her adult son, Erik, a young adult on the autism spectrum, with limitless possibilities in a safe and secure environment. Kathryn enjoys all things beautiful and elegant: people, wildlife, land/waterscapes, art, world travel, solutions and products that simplify and enhance the world. She is a tenacious creative solution provider that leads with courage and compassion.  

Read the article Erik’s Ranch: Operated by Young Adults with Autism.