For a good number of years my wife and me had the most satisfying volunteer experience of our lives…We served as a volunteer (“Vol”) at Heifer International Learning Center at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark. We did not know what we were getting into when we first stopped at the Ranch for a visit with a friend who was already a “Vol”. We had just spent a few weeks vacationing and had explored vacation rentals on the Gulf. It took us just one day at the Ranch to convince us that we didn’t need to spend another winter on a beach or golf course somewhere, with its superficial elements of satisfaction, when we could be of service to a very important mission…addressing the issue of hunger and poverty in this world, including the U.S.
Heifer Ranch is a very special place. It is a ranch, a farm, a zoo, and most importantly, a classroom where some exceptional lessons of service are taught through hands-on experience. More than 16,000 visitors come to the Ranch each year, either as part of school tours, a variety of multiple day workshops for youth through adult, visitors just dropping in, or persons who are part of the CSA, the certified organic gardening project of the Ranch. The ranch itself is 1200 acres, the majority of which is leased as income for the ranch operation. The remaining approximately 300 acres are dedicated to the philosophy of Heifer International, of eliminating hunger and protecting the environment worldwide and in the U.S. through sustainable projects.
The Visitors Center was our home base at the Ranch, and our role as Host Couple was to greet visitors, provide them with information through videos and handouts, answer their questions and give them a full tour of the Ranch. As one young visitor commented after a tour: “This is a wonderful zoo.” And so it is, with nearly a full array of animals, from camels, to water buffalo, llamas, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, turkeys, mules, donkeys and, yes, heifers. Each animal in its own paddock set in a pastoral setting of a ranch. Visitors are welcome to wander the Ranch, except in areas where classes are being conducted, and, of course, staying out of the animal paddocks.
The Ranch holds a special place for my wife and me. The “work” with exceptional Vols, both retirees and recent college grads, made our time at Heifer truly unforgetable. Most of the time it felt more like fun than service. A place where a hike through the Global Villages brought you face-to-face with the habitats and living conditions in a multitude of third world countries (and he U.S.) where hunger is a constant. We have held family reunions in one of the lodges on the Ranch, and the experience has had a lasting impact. For our then 8 year old granddaughter, it was an exciting place where she grew in confidence, falling in love with goat kids and getting up early so as not to miss an opportunity to milk a mama ewe.
So, what is a heifer, you ask? Look it up, we had to! What did we find? A heifer is a cow, usually a young one, that has never had a calf. A pregnant heifer is the stuff of success for a Heifer project. There you have it. Visit Heifer Ranch when you are in the neighborhood. You will be treated as favored guests and you will want to return. And, of course, you will want to contribute to Heifer International and make your mark against hunger and proverty. Check this out at Heifer.org for more information.