Mike Whalen: There is nothing like Wildwood Hills Ranch anywhere in the Midwest. The 400 acre facility is set in the scenic hills of Madison County, just south of Des Moines. The organization was founded in 2001 with the mission of providing life-changing opportunities and camp programs for at-risk and disadvantaged children. Kids from across the state are offered hope and love while being challenged to grow into leaders and people of integrity who contribute to the communities in which they live.
During the first three years, Wildwood Hills Ranch served more than 800 at-risk children, ages 8 – 16 from all over Iowa. The Ranch collaborates with organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs and Hope Ministries, as well as the Department of Human Services and local schools to identify and assist the hundreds of at-risk children that we serve. Financial supporters include individuals, businesses, and foundations such as Variety the Children’s Charity, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation, Roy J. Carver Foundation, among others.
During week-long summer camps, individual impact is accomplished through character mentoring by mature and carefully selected counselor role models, activities that are woven together with purpose, daily reflection times and evening campfire experiences. Programs include leadership, character building and team building components. Devoted and trained camp counselors help teach these children the meaning of honest, integrity, and respect – the core values that many of these youngsters are unaware of simply because of the situations life has dealt them. All spiritual aspects of Wildwood Hills’ summer camps are non-threatening, respectful and based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Of course, Wildwood Hills Ranch is a place for children to have fun. Campers enjoy a week full of exciting activities including hiking, swimming, horseback riding, fishing and arts and crafts. The impact of Wildwood Hills Ranch’s program doesn’t stop on the last day of camp. Our campers are invited to “Bounceback” weekend events in the fall, winter and spring, where the children can continue to build on their positive summer camp experiences.
Last year, Iowa’s Department of Human Services reported more than 23,000 cases of child abuse. With increasing trends in childhood poverty, abuse and neglect, it is imperitive that we continue to reach out and touch the lives of these children. We recognize the need to offer them hope and we can make a difference. Wildwood Hills Ranch is focused on building strong and principled youth who, in the future, will have a positive impact on Iowa’s communities.