CAMP VERDE — A new partnership with a local pastor brought a distinctively Catholic voice to a nearly 40-year-old Christian home for adults with developmental disabilities.
Fr. Alphonsus Bakyil, pastor of nearby St. Frances Cabrini, led the first of what he plans to make a monthly rosary for the 10 or so identified Catholics living at Rainbow Acres. The ranch-style community houses 91 full-time ranchers hailing from 21 states. Three others come for the day program.
A small mix of each attended the first prayer group meeting May 18. Parents and a member of the board of trustees also joined in.
Fr. Bakyil vowed to support the ranchers on-site as much as he could before leading the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. He also affirmed the ranchers of their state in life and encouraged them to daily get out of bed and thank God for who they are.
A positive self-image is nothing the ranchers struggle with. Rainbow Acres strives to give people with disabilities hope, dignity and purpose by caring for them in a family-style atmosphere.
Ranchers spend their days doing household chores, making arts and crafts to sell and tending to horses and chickens. Visitors will also find them in therapy, equestrian training and vocational training.
Roughly one-third work outside jobs. A fledgling radio station with a one-mile broadcast range went on the air because one rancher wanted to work in radio.
Ranchers have the option of starting their day in group or house prayer. Rainbow Acres is a Christian ministry associated with the American Baptist Churches USA.
“Accept that God loves us very deeply in a very personal way,” Fr. Bakyil told the first members of the Catholic prayer group.
They gathered in the community center with grand views of the landscape and of a commissioned Christ the Healer statue watching over them. Three figures, one who is blind, another with Down Syndrome and a third with cerebral palsy eagerly accept Jesus’ embrace. All represent typical disabilities seen in the ranchers.
“It’s more about abilities than disabilities,” Margie Beach, director of communications and community relations, told The Catholic Sun.
Fr. Bakyil agreed, telling the ranchers, “We each have gifts God gives us. We are all unique.”
The rosary is one of many gifts God gave to everyone, the priest ordained for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity said. Fr. Bakyil encouraged those in the prayer group to frequently approach the Blessed Mother whether in times of need, in times of joy, or as a means of praying for another person.
Prayer requests, largely to pray for the ranchers in each other’s households, came pouring in following the rosary. Rainbow Acres has 10 group homes separated by gender plus two four-plex apartment buildings for ranchers who prove they can live on their own.
Gregory Dawson, a rancher for the last 25 years, was among the first to offer a prayer request. Fr. Bakyil had blessed his house on a previous visit, but Dawson, a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini, still wanted his pastor to pray that housemates share Christ’s love with each other. It’s a topic Dawson — who calls himself “Awesome Dawson” — has long been passionate about, especially since being fully initiated into the faith at the Easter Vigil.
“There was so much excitement. I can get more involved as a Roman Catholic,” Dawson said regarding the Catholic prayer group at Rainbow Acres.
He has already been quite active in the Church. Dawson made his Cursillo retreat last year in Flagstaff, joined the Knights of Columbus earlier this year, loves to watch Eternal Word Television Network and admitted to crying during eucharistic adoration.
Fr. Bakyil hopes the prayer group will also bring lapsed Catholics back to church and plans to bless more Rainbow Acres homes as requests come in.
Rainbow Acres staff and area volunteers ensure ranchers who want to attend local church services have a ride. There’s also a monthly praise and worship service on-site.
“It’s a blessing to be able to allow each rancher to grow in their faith,” said Steve Palmer, a member of the board of trustees.
Palmer is one of two board members who happen to be members of Immaculate Conception Parish, about 12 miles away. Palmer, a fellow Knight, has especially seen Dawson grow in his faith.
“He’s really feeling his faith and what it is to be a Catholic,” Palmer said.
As much as Palmer loves Rainbow Acres and his last 35 years working with and on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, he said something is missing. He would love to see more Catholic involvement whether it’s a parish effort or youth groups.
“I think they’re missing out by not being involved,” Palmer said.
He noted that there are Christian churches who support Rainbow Acres based on testimony alone and have never set foot on property. Others commute in for a week or so of service work and interaction with the ranchers. On-site trailers serve as dorms.
There are some regular Catholic volunteers. Like Kris Metzler and his wife. The St. Frances Cabrini volunteers take a vanload of ranchers to Mass less than seven miles away and then home again each week.
That interaction led to their daughter joining the day program at Rainbow Acres a couple of years ago. Her parents knew she liked music and often saw her tapping her foot. It wasn’t until a week of rehearsal with Rainbow Acres’ traveling choir went by that the director, and shortly after the Metzlers, discovered her beautiful voice.
Metzler said Rainbow Acres gives ranchers the opportunity to discover the gifts that they wouldn’t have known that they had. Metzler, who also serves as a part-time physical therapist at Rainbow Acres, called the organization the “gold standard” when it comes to caring for adults with developmental disabilities. He described it as a warm atmosphere and not clinical or a babysitting service like he’s seen in other places.
“To know as we get older and we can’t take care of her, to know that she’ll be taken care of, there’s a level of comfort there that only a parent can understand,” Metzler said.
Families can visit as often as they’d like and ranchers, with parent permission, can go off-site with local volunteers. Ranchers have a Camp Verde family too interacting with fellow ranchers as siblings and local residents as uncles, aunts and cousins. Some St. Frances Cabrini parishioners treat a rancher to local eateries and attractions for their birthday. At Christmastime, volunteers help with the annual shopping spree at a Phoenix-area mall.
“I’ve seen it grow. By no means is it finished growing,” Metzler said of the 30-acre ranch. “It’s been a rewarding experience. It’s living your faith.”
To learn more about sponsoring a rancher or volunteering at Rainbow Acres, a residential Christian community for adults with developmental disabilities, go to:
www.rainbowacres.com or call (928) 567-5231