Meramec Adventure Learning Ranch, Great Circle
Who we are: The Meramec Adventure Learning Ranch is the therapeutic wilderness and adventure arm of Great Circle, the largest private non-profit behavioral health organization in Missouri. Using the transformative power of the wilderness and adventure, the Ranch is dedicated to serving individuals and families whom much of the world has given up on, including youth struggling with traumatic pasts, youth in residential treatment, youth on the Autism Spectrum, and Wounded Warriors. In the past several years, the ranch has grown to be one of the most extensive adventure bases in the Midwest and recognized on a national level. Located on 1,200 acres in Steelville, last year the Ranch served over 8,000 participants in programs running all but a few days of the entire year.
The mission of Great Circle is to reshape vulnerable lives through a community of partners, teachers, and leaders, giving children and families the confidence to create bright futures.
The Meramec Adventure Learning Ranch works to accomplish this mission by using adventure and wilderness to enable people to realize who they were truly created to be.
- Youth in Residential Treatment struggling with traumatic pasts
- Youth in the Foster Care System
- Youth on the Autism Spectrum
- Wounded Veterans.
In just a few years, the ranch has grown to be one of the most extensive adventure bases in the Midwest and recognized on a national level.
- Located on 1,200 acres in Steelville, right in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest.
- Last year the Ranch served over 7,000 participants in programs running all but a few days of the entire year.
We work to accomplish this by intentionally working toward and growing:
2. Personal Efficacy or the Belief in one's power to produce an effect
3. Healthy Relationships
4. Purpose through service
The process that we as humans go through as we grow, change, and heal is similar. Our program follows this progressive process. It looks like this:
1. Develop awareness, respect, and interdependence among the individuals in the group.
2. Recognize and apply their unique design in the service of others.
3. Reconstruct perceptions to nurture hope.
4. Transform brokenness into meaningful purpose and direction.
5. Experience joy in living.
It is our belief that everyone has a unique purpose and calling in life that can be found and fulfilled through a transformed life of Character, Service, and Vision. Regardless of events of the past, decisions made, and challenges of the future, we wholeheartedly believe that each person is able to achieve that purpose. This begins by recognizing that each of us, first and foremost, is simply a human being…a person. Each of us have hopes and dreams, pasts and fears, strengths and challenges, and desires to be impactful, purposeful, and to belong. Recognizing each other as people first instead of by our labels, we can recognize that while our pasts, behaviors, diagnosis, and other labels may play a part in our lives, they do not have to define us.
We believe that when people go through difficult times and events, there is the possibility of getting “stuck” in a place where feelings of helplessness, isolation, and meaninglessness overwhelm and paralyze us. Adventure and the Wilderness provides an incredible opportunity not found in many other places to confront those feelings of “stuckness”, combat them in real-life situations, overcome, re-define our identities, and heal.
How does it work?
Whether we are balancing 40 feet in the air on a cable, or climbing to the top of a mountain peak, adventures take us out of our comfort zone and into a place of disequilibrium where, by necessity, we are much more willing to try new ways of thinking, acting, reacting, and interacting. These new ways of living and lessons learned can be applied to many areas of our lives where they can be useful and effective.
Part of being out of our comfort zone is the simplicity and difficulty found in the wild. Natural consequences abound out here: preparation and compassion are rewarded with a warm fire and laughter of friends; being too tired to set up a tent or help someone else with theirs makes for a cold, wet, and miserable night. Once the simplicity of adventure is accepted and embraced, distractions and the trivial things that normally bog us down and overwhelm us seem to melt away, clearing our minds and allowing for new insight along with renewed passion and joy.
Adventure experiences are not an escape from the daily grind. They are reality where, in an “off-balance” environment, the true self always eventually surfaces and must be faced, free of the walls and masks built up through time and experience. This increased AWARENESS can provide the very lessons, affirmation, and direction most needed for each of us at that moment of in our lives. This may be a time of purification, of testing, of building, of confirmation, of waking, of changing, of envisioning, or even something totally different. However, whatever is needed is there for the taking if we choose to seek it.
Blowing an ember into flame made with only the materials found around you, standing exhausted and triumphant on the top of 14,000’ peak, guiding your team through unbroken wilderness gives powerful truth to the BELIEF that whatever the situation, we have the power to make an impact and produce an effect. For many of us, the flame of the first fire is not what most grows this belief, but the grit that kept us going through the countless failed attempts without ever giving up is what we end up holding onto as our greatest accomplishment.
Service to others and team interdependence are not an option out here: we all excel on some days or in some areas; we all struggle, hit walls, and reach our breaking point on other days or in other areas. We must dig deep within ourselves and rely on each other to bring us through. Adventure forms CONNECTIONS and relationships with a speed and depth rarely found within city walls. “No man is an island” is not just a quote out here, but the way of life—a comradery rarely found in places other than battlefields, oceans, and mountaintops.
As each person’s role within the group deepens and expands, so too does each individual’s sense of PURPOSE. We have become a part of something bigger than just ourselves. The group is relying on us. They need us, and as our journey leads us back down from the mountains, our purpose expands to those around us wherever we might find ourselves.
Used intentionally, adventure and the wilderness can begin an incredible journey to change our perceptions from overwhelming generalized opinions of who we are (helpless, isolated, without meaning) to objective evaluations of belief in our capabilities, connections, and purpose.
…In other words, Adventure grows HOPE!
Evidence bears out that these experiences become defining moments for us all as we journey and grow to become the people we were created to be.
At the Ranch, our staff play a key role in this transformative process, and it is essential that we as staff have the right heart, character, and authenticity to build the relationships required for this journey to occur. Relationships are the foundation from which Awareness, Belief, Connections, and Purpose spring and the lifeblood of their continued growth. Through our lives, we want to consistently strive to meet each person we serve where they are at that moment and in every action, word, and thought demonstrate our:
Unwavering belief—in their potential to rise above the past and challenges of the future, to grow, to heal, and to be redeemed
Unconditional care—that is based, not on their performance, or even on anything to do with them, but on their worth innately given to them through the character of their Creator. This care is acted out in both nurturing care and accountability and lots of both!
Engagement and Awareness—we don’t watch from the sidelines or ask what we are not doing or willing to do. We lead from the front and walk alongside.