In this season of giving there are many examples of generosity, and here in Sand Canyon, a local non-profit is grateful for a new home. If you’ve noticed a sudden flurry in the corrals at the ranch on Sand Canyon and Lost Canyon roads, it may be the presence of SRD Straightening Reins. The organization offers mental well-being and hope to at-risk teens through equine therapy.
Previously located on the other side of the Santa Clarita Valley, the SRD board of directors completed a yearlong review of finances and programs, finding a Canyon Country property that better met their needs.
“After reviewing multiple ranch locations, our Sand Canyon facility met the criteria — improved accessibility, transition feasibility, and a decrease in overhead costs,” said Deborah S. Rocha, SRD Straightening Reins executive director.
Rocha founded the non-profit in 2011 after the death of her daughter, Samantha Rocha Dyer, who had struggled with mental illness. Her initials became the moniker for the organization — SRD.
Clients are from the Santa Clarita Valley, students at many of the middle schools and high schools. Both the teens and their families take advantage of SRD’s programs. Youth who participate there range in age from 5 through 22 years, in addition to parents. Currently, there are 14 participating in equine-assisted psychotherapy, known as EAP. There are weekly groups for foster youth, domestic violence center clients, individuals from the department of children and family services, and teens known as Ranch Crew.
About 6-10 young people and 6-8 adults volunteer their time every week, providing supervision, maintenance of animals and the facility, advertising, data entry, a food recovery program, and fundraising, among other tasks.
SRD board member Susan Lopez became involved when her son, Eric, needed hours for Honor Society at Canyon High School.
“SRD is a wonderful place for children 8-18 to volunteer and give back to the community,” Susan Lopez said. “There weren’t very many non-profits in SCV (at that time) that had ongoing opportunities to volunteer for students under 14 years of age. After the first year, I fell in love with the cause and difference SRD made, and continues to make, in the lives of those who become involved, either as a volunteer or recipient of services.”
Deborah Rocha and her son live on the property as caretakers for SRD’s herd.
“The Hanson family has been wonderful and have already become part of our SRD programs,” Rocha said. “Our herd came with us from our original facility, as they’ve been chosen specifically for helping others heal.”
“Without our donors we’d be nothing. They’re the peanut butter to our jelly,” Rocha said. “Just because we have a great mission doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be around for years. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s just that: reality.”
The SRD Straightening Reins board made decisions that cut expenses by a third, Rocha said, including pulling up stakes in San Francisquito Canyon. It was a big job with a team of people assisting.
“We are fortunate to find an owner of a location that believes in our mission that we can afford,” Lopez said. “Moving to a new location was more out of necessity, rather than desire. Sustainable funding is a challenge for any nonprofit, especially one that has only been in existence five years.”
Rocha has been able to continue by forming partnerships and seeking out businesses, organizations and individuals who have like-minded goals about mental health education and treatment.
“Honestly, most other challenges pale in comparison to our need for funding to keep our doors open and accomplish our mission,” she said.
The organization has worked in the lives of many local families to address behavioral issues and reduce teen suicide.
“I’m not sure those who hear about SRD understand the multitude of benefits this nonprofit provides to youth in need of services or a safe place to hang out, do homework or ranch chores,” Lopez explained, “where kids can be themselves without judgment.”
Rocha wants to bring the problem of mental health challenges into the open and garner more community awareness.
“We work with mental health in our community, and we have a difficult time getting media/community support,” she said. “Mental health is a very sensitive subject … and the dirty little secret of many families.”
For more information, visit srdstraighteningreins.org.