To Profit or Not

BY JERRY HORTON

Years ago Al Rodriquez was Director of El Buen Samaritano in Austin. Judy and I were still wondering if we should abandon our academic careers, take an absurd leap of faith and try to create, from scratch, a nonprofit ranch for adults with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

We knew Al from our church.  We were talking with as many people as we could—our pastor, fellow parishioners, family and friends—getting their views and asking their ideas or advice. So, I asked Al if he’d meet me for lunch.

Over the breaking of bread (actually tortilla) Al was encouraging of our idea of starting a nonprofit, but also cautioned this: “Understand.  You’ll always be worrying about money.  You’ll always be asking for money.”

Al later became a beloved Episcopal priest, while Judy and I went on to create two nonprofits—first Down Home Ranch and now Point Rider, Inc.  And . . . Al had spoken truly! Here we are still asking for money.  (Actually, we didn’t even ask for the first donation we got for Down Home Ranch 30 years ago.  It came from Judy’s cousin Pat and it was for $15.  “Venture capital!” I exulted.)

Starting from at the very beginning, with only an idea (and a cute and charming daughter with Down syndrome) that idea became a corporation.  Then it became a corporation with bylaws, articles, policies and procedures, next a nonprofit corporation recognized by the IRS as a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt public charity. From there we became a nonprofit with a summer camp (Ranch Camp) and erecting donated greenhouses to grow poinsettias—creating jobs and income. All the while we were asking for help, for donations.  Indeed, from tiny seeds great oaks grow!

Judy often says that the greatest lesson we learned in building Down Home Ranch was just how many good, caring people came forth to help us, giving their time, treasure, and talent. Years rolled by as these good folk, joined by businesses and charitable foundations supported the Ranch’s growth from 216 acres, one donkey and no residents, to 410 acres, a herd of cattle and 42 residents—with all the complexity and organizational challenges of a growing nonprofit bureaucracy.

We learned a lot over those years about serving adults with disabilities and operating a community, and soon people began to come to us, asking how we did it.  They still come asking, “What will happen to my son after we are gone?” “Where will my daughter live when I am no longer able to care for her?”  They were inspired by Down Home Ranch’s story and possibilities they had not dreamed existed.

Today they ask, “Can you help?”  And we answer, “Yes, we’ll help as we can.  We will cheer you on, we will share what we know, we will show you what is possible.”  Many inspiring nonprofit projects have included a visit to Down Home Ranch—Tall Tales Ranch, 29 Acres, Blue Ridge Community, Adults Independent and Motivated (AIM), Down by the Border and others.

Judy and I retired in 2016 from the leadership of Down Home Ranch, but moms and dads and others still come asking, “What can we do?”  So, we created Point Rider, Inc. as a nonprofit with a mission, to share our years of experience and expertise.  We consult freely on a pro bono basis with any who ask.  And yes, we still ask for money to help us do this. 

Point Rider is a nonprofit and needs charitable contributions to fund the charitable side of our mission—consulting with families and organizations to create viable residential alternatives for adults with IDD.

Currently my colleague Mark Olson and I are consulting with several initiatives in Texas Missouri, Indiana, Washington and California, as well as several in Texas.  Most are short on money but bring a passionate commitment to provide a great life for their adult children with disabilities in a safe environment surrounded by friends.

We are pleased that Point Rider was recently awarded a $75,000 grant from a respected Texas charitable foundation. These funds will enable us to increase our organizational capacity and extend our outreach to those seeking to create new housing options, access supports and services, and connect to other families and nonprofits.

St. George’s Episcopal church where we met Al was the catalyst for a remarkable number of ministries that began like those we are now consulting with, including Ceden, El Buen Samaritano, St. George’s Court, Down Home Ranch and Lynn, The Egg Lady—who later founded Mary House Catholic Worker. A remarkable list of nonprofits for a small, working-class church.

Nonprofits have benefited a lot of souls along the way, including thousands of families with a son or daughter with an intellectual or developmental disability. The nonprofit world also introduced Judy and me personally to a huge and wonderful community of friends and colleagues across the nation.

No, Judy and I haven’t become wealthy . . . but profit we have.