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Impact Stories

Aug 01 2023

A Journey of Intentional and Holistic Healing at Image of Hope Ranch

For-ImpactPhilanthropic Partnering

Michelle Fox, Director of Operations, leads a horse named Gunner out of his stall.

Michelle Fox, Director of Operations, leads Gunner out of his stall.

A Life Touched

There was once a young girl who, for this story’s sake, we’ll call Jenna. For nearly her entire life, Jenna had struggled with an emotional condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). This disorder made it difficult for Jenna to form trusted relationships and caused her to be fearful of others. She could not fathom that another person or animal would love her unconditionally.

At Image of Hope Ranch in Auburn, Indiana, Jenna was introduced to a new type of relationship—a relationship with a horse. When she met her first horse, the horse turned its head away from her rather than looking her in the eyes. To Jenna, this meant that the horse had rejected her. In this moment, she broke down in tears. She saw this rejection as a confirmation of her worthlessness. Even a horse could not befriend or love her.

Alisha Shank, the founder of Image of Hope Ranch, was thankfully able to understand what was happening. Alisha decided to introduce Jenna to another horse, Zoey. They brought Zoey out and asked Jenna to help brush her. Moments after Jenna began brushing her, Zoey wrapped her neck around Jenna. In horse language, Zoey embraced Jenna. This taught Jenna that she was lovable, which began to soften her heart to be open to love. This is a beautiful example of what Image of Hope Ranch does day in and day out.

Michelle Fox and female volunteer walking past a horse in field

Horses are treated respectfully and humanely at Image of Hope Ranch. Michelle Fox, Operations Director, and a volunteer enjoy time in the sunshine along with one of the horses.

Offering An Unconventional Approach to Bring Healing and Hope

Most people think Reactive Attachment Disorder is an irreversible condition. As Alisha continued walking alongside Jenna for several months, Jenna bonded with Zoey. The unique way the Image of Hope family came alongside Jenna in her pain accomplished what most traditional therapy often struggles with. Image of Hope works to use tangible and manageable physical exercises to teach a concept that might typically seem overwhelming to someone like Jenna. By doing this, they’re able to gradually and kindly approach this growth without coming across as a criticism or an attack.

When Alisha identified that the first horse and Jenna were not aligned in their communication, Alisha chose a different horse, Zoey, to communicate to Jenna exactly what Jenna needed to hear—that the horse trusted and loved her. Horses, like other animals, have their own unique ways of expressing emotions such as love and trust. While humans primarily rely on verbal and physical cues to express emotions, horses communicate through body language and behavior. By using Zoey to communicate this needed message of love, Jenna felt heard and understood, which helped Jenna heal from her traumatic past. When trauma is experienced during childhood, developmental stages can be seriously affected. Image of Hope offers experiences that reignite developmental formation to bring healing and hope.

teen female volunteers at Image of Hope Ranch leading horses past a white barn in the background

Nearly 150 Image of Hope Volunteers invest their time and energy at the ranch, finding the environment peaceful and the work, purposeful.

Image of Hope Ranch’s vision is to offer a place where those struggling emotionally can move toward a healthier mind, body, and spirit. This can happen in a variety of ways, such as tailored programs, individual mentoring, or educational experiences using non-traditional methods. Image of Hope Ranch is unique in the way they personalize each experience, calling their process the Journey to Fulfillment. Alisha doesn’t talk about client diagnosis or a specific treatment plan; rather, she shares what a child or adult struggles with and how a relationship with a person or animal at the ranch could help heal their need.

Alisha has loved horses ever since she was a little girl when her father gave her a horse for her birthday. Alisha’s vision was to recreate the joy, connection with animals, and emotional freedom she experienced as a child. The ranch has many quiet spaces, including a pond where visitors can fish, swim, kayak, or simply enjoy the peace it offers. There are numerous animals wandering around, including ducks, bunnies, chickens, cats, dogs, and horses. Alisha has grown and feels comforted by being encompassed by nature. When she first began this endeavor, she had no idea what it would look like. However, she began her journey knowing that God had called her and her family to the work she does daily at Image of Hope.

Creating Impact Through Relationship

When Alisha talked about her journey, she shared how Ambassador Enterprises and the Philanthropic Partnering team of Arlan Friesen and Patty Crisp have helped her grow in so many ways. According to Alisha, “I have been doing this all my life. I know what I do and how to do it. However, it can be difficult for me to communicate it in a way that others really understand what we do here—Patty helped me put it into words. I truly have been growing and developing in telling others what happens here [at Image of Hope Ranch]. Not only that, Arlan and Patty have spent hours pouring into me as a person. Their coaching has enabled me to grow in my confidence as a leader.”

Alisha Shank stands beside Patty Crisp while leaning on a rail with a pond in the background

Alisha Shank, Image of Hope Ranch founder and CEO with Patty Crisp, Ambassador Enterprises Portfolio Developer

To Alisha, the relationship with AE is more valuable than financial support. Alisha says, “We appreciate the financial support we receive from any source, but the time, consideration, and compassion shared by Patty and Ambassador Enterprises is unique.” Alisha appreciates and values the relationship and intentionality of the Philanthropy team. Ambassador has shown genuine interest in her success, personal well-being, and professional development. Rather than feeling unequipped and unsure of herself, she is ready to face whatever challenges are brought her way with strength, grace, and wisdom.

Image of Hope Ranch strives to meet people exactly where they are. Alisha says, “Every person is here for a reason, whether as a volunteer or a student.” The only requirements to participate are a desire to be open to the Image of Hope process, to move with intentionality and love, and to be kind to one another—the animals and the ranch. This simple statement embodies all Image of Hope Ranch stands for—to help those who are hurting and help them develop healthier minds, bodies, and spirits.

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Jul 27 2023

Empowering The Next Generation 

2023 interns on dark gray background

In celebration of our interns and Indiana Intern Day, we’re sharing intern insights from Andy Barnes, Caden Friedt, Caiah Smith, and Lawson Doden. We are thankful for the opportunity to work alongside these four innovative young people dedicated to building their skills and competencies through internships and work-based learning.

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