At Meramec Adventure Ranch, There’s 1,200 Acres of Love and Miracles

In the middle of the woods, in the middle of Missouri. That’s where some of the most remarkable healing work takes place for children who have experienced trauma.

Great Circle’s nationally accredited Meramec Adventure Ranch is a 1,200-acre haven in Steelville, featuring one of the Midwest’s largest adventure bases, complete with ropes courses, aquatic activities, camping, kayaking and biking.

If you ask Ranch director Brett Bailey about all that, however, he’ll quickly move you beyond the attractive amenities. “We use these not as an end in themselves, but as a catalyst to inspire growth, healing and hope,” Bailey says.

The Ranch, which became part of Great Circle in 1996, provides a unique type of therapy for the children who visit throughout the year. The Ranch and its offerings have been nurtured and grown through Bailey’s leadership and efforts to weave adventure learning around an understanding of childhood trauma. Most of the children who come to the Ranch are currently receiving residential treatment services through Great Circle. The vast majority have experienced significant trauma in their tender years.

The facility is built on a foundation of trauma-informed care, which validates each person’s unique past experiences and helps them learn to steer through difficulties. At the Ranch, young people gain opportunities to build confidence, begin to believe in their abilities and skills to achieve goals, and start to understand the importance of making positive life choices. These lessons shine through in moments when kids suddenly realize they can tackle a difficult course or complete a challenging activity.

“The Ranch helped me see the beauty of my story.”
-Audrey, camper

Bailey, a former Army Ranger, began his Ranch/Great Circle career 15 years ago and isn’t shy about his calling – dedicating his life and lived experiences to helping kids in need. One of his first achievements for the Ranch was gaining accreditation by the American Camp Association and a host of other certifications. Most important, Bailey and his staff also have received extensive training in trauma informed care.

“Our pledge is to meet kids where they are,” Bailey says. “We redeem the brokenness in a child’s past and build resiliency to future trauma by providing an environment where they can grow their personal efficacy, life-giving relationships with others, and purpose through service.

Adds Bailey, “Along their journey, we help them reach several milestones – developing awareness, respect and interdependence, reconstructing perceptions of self, nurturing hope, transforming brokenness into meaningful purpose and direction, and experiencing joy in living.”

Whether it’s building a campfire, gaining endurance on a hiking trail, or expanding a comfort zone on the zipline, experiences at the Ranch provide new ways for kids to see themselves. That’s an enormous beginning in the healing work from life events many have previously endured.  

“I always look forward to that expression in a camper’s eyes as he or she starts to realize their ability to accomplish things,” Bailey says. “Maybe they’ve never been given credit for their hidden strengths or maybe they can’t even give themselves credit for them.”

After a Ranch experience, though, Bailey says kids begin to see they’re not alone – and they can make an impact on the world.

“We see kids start thinking, “I have something to offer. I’m not the sum of those negative words that cycle around in my head two minutes before I fail at something,” Bailey says. “Watching that spark light up and get repeated throughout a camper’s time here is amazing.”