Roanoke Ranch for Kids advocates restoration and healing through faith and horses



“Trust. It takes years to build up, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

For some, that statement holds no meaning because their trust can easily be regained; for others, their trust, once broken, is forever and irreversibly shattered. This type of life- one without trust and faith for the future- is not a desirable lifestyle, and it can often be a major barrier to future prosperity. At Roanoke Ranch for Kids, that broken trust and fearful nature in people are what they strive to mend through faith and through horses.

“When [kids] first come [to Roanoke Ranch], they are really shy,” said junior and ranch volunteer, Katelyn Elian. “The kids are very sheltered like they’re holding themselves back. Then, towards the end of the summer camp, they’ve become very comfortable and happy, and they feel safe. [You can just see] it in their smile.”

The comfort and kindness from the horses and volunteers are what makes all the difference in the lives of these struggling kids. Most of the kids who frequent to Roanoke Ranch are from downtown Grand Rapids, so breaking away from the city to the ranch is perfect for kids and adults alike to gain a new sense of trust and grow into a healthier lifestyle.

“They do a lot of team-building, character-building,” said junior volunteer at the ranch, Sophie Bolen. “There is a lot of healing power in horses, and we use that. It’s kind of like therapy for everyone on that ranch.”

The power that the horses have to impact the lives of both kids and volunteers who come into contact with them is what differentiates Roanoke from other ranches.

“I can say that [Roanoke Ranch] really changes people,” Katelyn said. “[For instance,] now I’m very faith-based, and I just love helping out with everything [at the ranch]. So it really changes a person, and it opens your eyes to how other people live and what’s going on around you in the world.”

Katelyn, even as just a high schooler, has been deeply affected for the better by the ranch, but she is not the only one whose life has been changed through a strengthened relationship with the horses and through their faith.

The owner and founder of Roanoke Ranch for Kids, Aaron Decker, has gone through many hardships over the course of his life, but since starting the ranch, he has been inspired daily by the fortitude of everyone who has passed through the ranch

“This has impacted my life in so many ways,” Decker said. “On days when I think that things are tough, all I have to do is look to one of these children or an experience that a volunteer had that helped to change their life, and it’s all the encouragement I need to continue to go to grow and try to be better each and every day.”

Since starting the ranch, Decker has been continually amazed by the grace of God and the support they’ve received from everyone.

“It’s amazing how each year God gives what I like to call carrots,” Decker said. “[These are things] that allow us to see the impact on one of the several kids either right before our eyes or sometimes a child or a volunteer sends a story of how the ranch has impacted their life in a particular way.”

Decker continued on to highlight the extraordinary occurrences of Roanoke Ranch and the direct impact that can be seen in the kids who were influenced by their experience.

“Each year we watch children grow in their faith, their life skills, and most often in their self-confidence and self-esteem,” Decker said. “There are many, many programs that are there to help children this is just one small program that I believe impacts many kids and volunteers in a very positive way, some of which we will never know but that’s totally up to God.”


As a non-profit organization, their funding is mostly derived from profitable volunteer events that bring the community together both interact and bond with the horses and the ranch. One of such events is the Blessing of the Horses, a fun event where the horses earn the gratitude they deserve with a prayer to honor all that they have achieved over the last year.

“[Blessing of the Horses] is our main fundraiser, and people can sponsor a horse or [pay a fee to have your own horse in],” Sophie said. “We ride around part of the two hundred acres, and then we come back to bless the horses. There’s lots of games and food, and [kids and adults] can ride horses. It’s basically getting to know all of the horses and the ranch.”

Though they have few fundraisers, the non-profit programs where kids come for a week are truly where the magic happens. As Sophie said, seeing the huge impact that horses have on people is “magical,” and Katelyn agreed.

“There’s just something about it that makes me happy and makes me smile every time I’m there,” Katelyn said. “The relationship you make with the horses [is great]. You make an amazing, unbreakable bond with them.”