Welcome to Erik’s Ranch & Retreats – a solution that was born out of love. Our story began in 2008 as Kathryn Nordberg, CEO, and founder of Erik’s Ranch & Retreats searched for options that would provide her son, Erik, a moderately functioning young adult on the autism spectrum, the kind of life he deserves – active and full of possibility, independence and purpose. She quickly found that there were few good options for moderate-to high-functioning young adults with autism, including those with Asperger’s syndrome. Despite years of hard work, even those high-functioning individuals often look for a community that offer some level of structure and support in their lives – with living accommodations, relationship building, social opportunities, meaningful work and recreation. So, Kathryn and a team of psychologists, attorneys, architects and marketing and business professionals developed an innovative model for young adults with autism, filled with opportunities: Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, with locations in Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, and in Montana’s Paradise Valley, close to Bozeman.
Today, young adults on the spectrum live independently at the Minnesota retreat and work toward personal goals with our staff of life plan coaches, enjoy organized recreational activities and social outings with other members, and have meaningful employment opportunities at the boutique-style hotel. Members also spend time at the Montana guest ranch throughout the year, and several work and live on-site during the summer months leading tours, hikes, assisting with our equine program, and more. At Erik’s Ranch & Retreats, we tap into the interests and talents of each of our members and strive to create opportunities for them to thrive.
Kathryn has the background – and the vision – necessary for this important living, working and social environment for young adults with autism. She has held executive positions with organizations in technology, packaged goods and health care, and has leadership experience in organizational planning, management and marketing. For ten years she helped run the largest privately held assisted living facility in Minnesota, seeing firsthand how residents benefit from a consistent caring and dedicated staff. To that end, she streamlined the documentation process and improved efficiencies to allow nursing staff more time for personalized care. Kathryn’s goal for a better life for those with autism is the foundation behind Erik’s Ranch & Retreats.
Since opening our doors, we have helped many young adults with autism find opportunities to flourish and follow their dreams. But it is not just us paving these paths toward success – it is our entire community. We are fortunate to receive support from passionate people from all walks of life who wish to make a positive impact in the lives of our members as mentors, volunteers, board members, guests, and donors. Without the kindness and generosity of these individuals, our mission would not be possible.
Our members all have unique passions and skillsets and connecting them with others who share these passions is critical to their growth. Some of our past mentors include Casey Anderson of Nat Geo Wild, who is a member of our board and has spent time with members exploring and tracking wildlife in Montana. Zac Kellerman of Zac’s Montana Kitchen is also a board member and has opened his kitchen and provided guidance for members who share his flair for the culinary arts. Dr. Carra Martinez of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis has helped secure unique work experiences for our members who have an interest in the performing arts. And professional photographer Seth Langbauer has taken time to share his tricks of the trade and wisdom with members who aspire to capture beautiful photographs. We have also been fortunate to partner with local businesses such as Canterbury Park, Paradise Adventure Company, and Yellowstone Angler who have included our members in leading different tours they provide.
The autism volunteer opportunities we offer have become an increasingly important component of our mission as well. Thanks to the growing popularity of voluntourism, travelers can simultaneously experience the beauty of our ranch while making a difference in the lives of our members. Our friends at local businesses such as Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, and SPS Commerce have helped us complete a variety of projects that enhance our mission and allow us to better serve our members. We have also created a live-in volunteer program at our Minnesota retreat in which volunteers live on-site and spend several hours each week utilizing their special strengths and talents to enrich the lives of our members.
Not everyone is able to directly mentor one of our members or visit us to volunteer, but our hearts are filled with joy by the outpouring of support and donations we receive from individuals and organizations across the country. As a small nonprofit with a big mission, the generosity and kindness of others is vital to our success. These donations allow us to provide our life plan coaching services, group recreational and social outings, purchase equipment for the tours that our members lead, maintain the stunning accommodations that sustain our mission, and so much more.
Our mission is more than just creating a life filled with dignity and opportunity for the young adults who call Erik’s Ranch & Retreats home. It is about changing the conversation around autism and focusing on the strengths of these individuals rather than limitations. Each tour and guest interaction for our members is a chance to showcase neurodiversity and what our members are capable of when they are given the chance to succeed. Our hope is that our guests take these experiences and spread this perception across the world so that we can break down barriers and provide more opportunities for those on the autism spectrum to do what they love. But we cannot do it alone. There are so many ways to get involved and we need your help. Whether it is staying with us as a guest, becoming a mentor, a volunteer, a board member, an employee, or a donor – you have the power to make a difference. We invite you to join our caring community, create a better life for individuals on the spectrum, help us impact global change.