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Wednesday, 13 January 2016 14:23

Living Hope Ranch in Consul-area provides a second chance for teenage girls

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Kristen Zilkie's vision to empower teenage girls is becoming a reality with the opening of the Living Hope Ranch near Consul in the Cypress Hills. Kristen Zilkie's vision to empower teenage girls is becoming a reality with the opening of the Living Hope Ranch near Consul in the Cypress Hills. Photo submitted

A new faith-based residential program to empower teenage girls is opening its doors in southwest Saskatchewan.

The Living Hope Ranch, which is located north of the village of Consul in the Cypress Hills, will welcome the first student in the program Jan. 18.
Living Hope Ranch Director of Communications Kristen Zilkie said the 12-month program will provide support to teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 17.
“We’re taking girls who are struggling with what we call life-controlling issues,” she explained. “So these life-controlling issues are things such as substance abuse for drugs and alcohol, or girls could come from physical or sexual abuse backgrounds, girls who might struggle with minor eating disorders, self harm or just extreme behavioural issues.”
The level of need of each girl is assessed during the application process, which involves her family.
“We want it to be a co-operation of the girls and the family,” she said. “So we not only want the girls to recognize that they need something to change in their life, that they’re at the end of the road, but also their parents.”
The program is open to applications from across Canada. It will provide education, mentoring, life skills and around-the-clock care in a safe and secure environment.
 “We want to work up to maintaining six girls within the first year with our long-term goal of housing eight girls on a consistent basis,” she said. “We have the space for at least eight girls, but we just want to make sure that we’ve got our first year under us and working out the kinks in the program and feeling confident to share in what we’ve developed and how that’s running before we take on more girls and it’s also a matter of obtaining staff too.”
Key staff members, for example social workers, a clinical therapist and an equine-assisted learning facilitator, have already been appointed.
“We definitely need more direct care staff as soon as we can get them,” Zilkie said. “We’re looking for anybody who is interested to begin an interview process with us. We want a staff ratio of one staff to every three girls. So as we take in more girls, we obviously need more staff.”
Education courses are provided through the Sun West Distance Learning Centre, an online school based out of Kenaston School. The program’s mentoring system will focus on teaching gratitude, responsibility, respect, leadership, time management and decision making skills. Students will receive more privileges, freedoms and responsibility as they advance through the different levels of the mentoring program.
There will be ongoing assessment of each student’s progress during the year. Clinical therapy workers will do weekly counselling with individual students and there will be group counselling once a week. Progress evaluations will take place once a month by a social worker, monthly progress reports will be provided to a student’s family, and there will be family counselling every three months.
“So the assessment is continual and we maintain that as a very pertinent structure within our program,” she said. “By the end of it, the girls have hopefully learned and grown and understood deeper who they are and what they can be, and how full and whole their lives can be. We want them to journey from brokenness to healing and to restoration.”
A distinctive feature of this residential program is the use of horses for therapy and learning purposes. This portion of the program will be presented by Christine Schauer, who is a certified western riding coach and equine-assisted learning facilitator.
“We did some research on various cutting edge forms of therapy beyond just sitting in counselling sessions,” Zilkie said. “We wanted to find something that the girls can really feel that they can personally connect with and we came across equine assisted learning, which is where horses are used as instruments for personal growth.”
The learning takes place through the daily interaction that students will have with the horses when they care for them.
“We really wanted to find something for the girls to connect with beyond themselves,” she said. “This kind of therapy gets them outside of just thinking about what’s happened to them and how the world has hurt them. They have to care for the horses, they have to feed the horses, and they have to maintain their well-being.”
Zilkie, who grew up on a farm near Consul, started the process to establish Living Hope Ranch in September 2013.
“I came home with a vision and then I found people who shared that vision and we together have made this a reality,” she said.
She returned to Consul after completing a year-long internship at a teenage girl recovery centre in downtown Los Angeles.
“It was during my time there that God really put a passion on my heart to help teen girls and to want to make a difference in the lives of young women,” she said. “I want to see other girls grow from their brokenness to a point where they’re able to dream again and they feel they have the power to achieve their dreams and to know that nothing really is impossible for them. They can have full and happy and whole lives and the rest of their life doesn't have to be a story of brokenness or pain.”
A feasibility study was done during a nine-month period to evaluate the need for a facility in rural Saskatchewan that will consist of a faith-based, long-term residential program with a component of equine assisted learning.
“It became very apparent to us very quickly that the need for such a program for girls was huge because there isn’t a program like this in existence for teenage girls anywhere in Canada right now,” she said. “As soon as we formed our body and became a non-profit and word slowly started to get out there, I started getting phone calls from parents all over the place interested in our program and asking when they could send their girls.”
Interested individuals in the community of Consul formed a committee to provide guidance and support with the process to establish Living Hope Ranch. It was registered as a non-profit organization in March 2015 and an application for charitable status has also been submitted to Revenue Canada.
According to Zilkie the support from Rock Solid Refuge, a faith-based residential program for teenage boys near Shaunavon, was very helpful during the start-up process for Living Hope Ranch.
“We’re incredibly thankful for their willingness to be a part of our project and to assist us,” she said. “We’re excited for the opportunity for the southwest of Saskatchewan to have two such homes that don’t exist anywhere else in Canada. It’s amazing, what an opportunity for the southwest to be making such a difference in young people’s lives.”
Living Hope Ranch is currently located at Diamond Willow Retreat, a quarter section of land near Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.
“It’s a beautiful lodge retreat centre located in the Cypress Hills, but just south of the park,” she said. “We felt we were ready to launch and needed a location and they offered to rent it to us, which has been a huge blessing for us. We’re very excited about it because it’s a beautiful location and has what we need, the space for the horses.”
For more information about Living Hope Ranch, visit the program’s website at

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Matthew Liebenberg