Whispering Hope Ranch, a facility near Christopher Creek that gives autistic children the chance to ride and interact with animals as a form of therapy, has received four grants totaling $250,000.
"After an article that ran in The Arizona Republic last year, we received requests from over 2,000 people from different groups around the state that wish to be a part of the ranch experience," Mary Clark, who works on ranch development for Whispering Hope, said.
The ranch also attracted the attention of the Geneva Foundation, a support association of the Arizona Community Foundation, which has provided Whispering Hope with a $140,000 grant.
Ranch officials plan to use the money to expand Whispering Hope's guest accommodations.
"Right now we have one guest house, which can accommodate one family," Clark said. "With the money, we'll build three more and hopefully a bunkhouse, a structure made of many individual rooms, accommodating even more families."
Architect students at Arizona State University will design plans for the cabins and submit their proposals to the ranch's board of directors for a final decision. Board officials plan to spend about $30,000 per cabin.
"ASU students are charging (for the designs), but it's much less than any professional company wanted," Clark said.
The students also have been invited to submit designs for a covered riding arena, for "therapeutic riding" that can be used when summer monsoons strike. That project, which will cost about $50,000, will be funded with the remaining portion of the Geneva Foundation grant, Clark said.
Lonnie Flores, facilities manager for the ranch, will coordinate the construction of both projects. With the assistance of interested members of the community to help with the building of these structures, Whispering Hope anticipates having this project completed within the next 12 months.
With progress on their minds, ranch officials said they will pursue matching grants to fund the design and construction of six more cabins, bringing the facility's total number of guest cabins to 10 within the next few years.
"We want to provide for overnight camp accommodation for those autistic children and their families who participate in our camps," Clark said. "It's difficult for some of these children and families to travel long distances, stay in a hotel for the night and then travel again to Whispering Hope for a second day of camp."
Although most of the money received will be used to expand Whispering Hope, money from two smaller grants will be used to help fund the ranch's upkeep and day-to-day operation.
The Holbrook Pyle Fund and the Armstrong Family Foundation each donated $5,000 to finance "Refuge of Hope" and "Hope Whisperer."
"Refuge of Hope" will provide the more than 100 special animals with all of the food, shelter and veterinary care they require, which can be quite a hefty price when dealing with animals that may necessitate special care, Clark said.
"Hope Whisperer" will cover all of the miscellaneous day-to-day operating costs at the ranch, allowing them to continue serving the children and adults who visit.
All of this money, harnessed with the $100,000 donated by Noah's Family Foundation through the Southwest Autism Research Center (SARC) that Whispering Ranch received at the beginning of the year, will foster "our goal to further help people in need of the ranch experience through the human/animal bond," Clark said.