Whispering Hope Ranch is still just a whisper, a name we all seem to know from somewhere. Yet, what it is, rings loud and clear to those who have walked the path and connected with a furry or feathered friend.
With dozens of healing stories in their archives, volunteers and employees just overflow with tales of wonder, moments of grace and miracles that they have witnessed while being a part of this tiny chunk of land nestled among the pine trees under the majesty of the Mogollon Rim.
Whispering Hope Ranch is a 40-acre home where wayward, cast-off and disabled critters have found hope. It is also a place where wayward, cast-off and disabled human beings can find peace, connectivity and yes, hope.
"What has taken over mine and Tom's life is the amazing things we have witnessed out here," Martha Mitchell said. She and husband Tom spend as much as 30 hours each month working with animals, giving and arranging guided tours and coordinating camp time for challenged youth in our community.
Whether the challenges are mental, physical, spiritual or emotional, Whispering Hope Ranch offers time and patience for each.
"We are always amazed, but never surprised," office manager Terry Wiser said of the many random acts of kindness offered by the animals to their human guests.
For example, she says Britta, an affectionate llama, will often break away from her herd and offer her furry neck and head to a severely disabled child, a child who is not able to reach a hand to the six-foot-tall animal.
She will lay her head on their chest and just stay there, Wiser said.
Mitchell witnessed a turkey mourn for its mate, a connecting moment for her.
"That is the thing that is so amazing, they are so emotional," she said of Pilgrim the turkey and all the animals that now call the ranch home.
Ducks, emus, sheep and llamas share space in harmony with cats, rabbits, horses and goats.
Each came with a tale of woe and have found a place of respite and peace. In return for a happy home, the animals share their spirit with human counterparts in need.
The animals have a deep level of trust for their new caregivers, ranch founder Diane Reid said. "They know when they are here, why they are here."
Wiser tells of a blind child connecting with a blind horse -- understanding each other in a way that only they could.
Volunteering provides the Mitchells, and volunteers like them, an abundance of these stories. "That is really our way of giving back," Mitchell said. Being blessed with five healthy children and seven healthy grandchildren of their own, she and Tom were looking for a way to contribute to their community after they retired. Finding Whispering Hope brought them to live in Payson.
"If you can (volunteer), you should," she said with enthusiasm, "(because) we receive more than we give.
"So many people have not caught on to this giving thing. We are literally pulling them in and telling them to give this a try," Mitchell said.
The ranch exists because Reid saw a need and because so many have given to the ranch.
"We have had angels, angels from everywhere," Reid said.
Eagle Scouts have built shelters, companies have donated custom-built golf carts and other equipment. Some folks donate time, some donate food and some send in cash. All have come and left a small part of themselves, and most take more than they left. Like witnessing an autistic child who has never spoken begin to sing while sitting astride a rescued horse that was surely headed for the glue factory had Whispering Hope not been available. It's pretty miraculous, those associated with the ranch agree, and it is something worth believing in.
Whispering Hope Ranch is located on Colcord Road off of Highway 260 east of Payson. For more information on the ranch or volunteering opportunities, call 478-0339 or visit their website at www.whisperinghoperanch.org.