My background is in real estate and finance, but I have been serving at Wildwood Hills Ranch since 2004. While at the Ranch that summer I read a letter to a nine-year-old boy that his mother had written telling him they could no longer be a family. That boy went into the custody of the state after he left the Ranch. I thought about that boy numerous times and wondered where he ended up. After jumping back into my real estate career I was approached by another organization to volunteer with abused, neglected and impoverished children. Three years later, while working with that organization, the young man I read the letter to showed up not only in my cabin but in the group of three children I was responsible for that week. Shortly after that experience I was employed full time at the Ranch. I believe that many of the problems in our society, and around the globe, are caused by fathers failing to follow through with their responsibilities. I believe the reason I was put on earth is to defend the cause of the fatherless. I spend my free time with my beautiful wife Jena, our daughters Bekah and Maddie, our son Wyatt, and our family and close friends.
Youth Development Director
When I first arrived at the Ranch, I was moved in such a way I couldn’t explain. There weren’t even kids here yet in May when I showed up for my UNI Leisure Youth and Human Services Internship. Throughout the summer I was able to see God working here and in my life by showing me all that was possible with these kids. The sometimes tragic stories I’ve heard from our students is a reminder that there is work to be done, and we can’t do it alone. There are children out there who need our love and a safe place to grow, learn and heal. I grew up in the small town of Chariton, Iowa, and lost my mother, whom I loved dearly, at the age of 12. I share this only because I believe that she has helped me see the light even in times of darkness, and given me the passion for helping others to have reasons to smile. I also realize my past experience has lead me to working with youth who are considered at-risk. I want to be a part in changing the world and I know now that sharing God’s love and getting our youth outdoors is the way to do so. In my full-time position I get to help prove the ways we are making a difference by measuring our goals. I love sharing with the world all that Wildwood Hills Ranch is doing because I believe in this place with all my heart.
I started at the Ranch in August 2012. After working for several years I went back to school to get my degree in business administration. Upon completion I reentered the workforce, but couldn’t seem to find the right fit. When I was approached for this position I finally found what I was looking for. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to work here and I thank God for bringing me to a place that does such wonderful things for children. I have an awesome husband, Ed, and four wonderful kids, Mike, Shawn, Cassie and Jennie. I also have four amazing grandchildren, Drake, Naomi, Natalya and Jackson. I feel privileged to be able to come to work every day and participate in what God is doing here.
Assistant Facility Director
Wildwood Hills Ranch is like home to me. I grew up in St. Charles and started at Wildwood as a Rancher, when I was 8 years old. My very first job was working in the Ranch’s equestrian center and doing maintenance. When I wasn’t successful in school the Ranch took me in and schooled me. Two years later I graduated with Al Lorenzen’s signature on my diploma. This place is like my family.
I left the Ranch for five years but came back in 2017 because this is where I feel called to serve. I enjoy hunting and fishing. Cars, motors and farming are my passion. I’m very good at working with my hands so the position at Wildwood is a natural fit.
I graduated from Evangel University in 2014 with a degree in elementary education, a minor in leadership and a passion for volleyball after playing all four years in college. My major specifically reflects my huge heart for kids, and God has broken my heart for the broken-hearted kids especially. After I graduated from Evangel, I spent about six months in Australia doing a Discipleship Training School through an amazing organization, YWAM (Youth with a Mission). During my time doing missions work in Australia and the nearby island of Papua New Guinea, I realized that a big part of my heart was still in Iowa of all places, because of the kids I had worked with during my three summers at Wildwood Hills Ranch. It has been amazing to see how God has used my passion for ministry, kids and leadership by leading me to Wildwood to share His unfailing and everlasting love with at-risk kids and youth. (Jeremiah 31:3) I am so thankful that God has greater plans than I do, and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow here at the Ranch as I oversee our Rancher program and recruit awesome staff to invest in our kids’ lives.
Director of Operations
I graduated from UNI and majored in leisure, youth and human services … essentially I majored in fun! My emphasis was in nonprofit administration and programming and had the opportunity to participate in some incredible internships and experiences in ministry, camps and nonprofits. Through many of these experiences God began to break my heart and draw my attention to people who did not have the same story as me. Those who were stuck in abuse and neglect, who didn’t have healthy families, or who lacked the security, blessing and opportunities I had been given. God brought me to Wildwood and my passions, interests and gifts began to align. I am absolutely loving getting to work with our summer staff and ranchers! Plus, when your “office” includes a high ropes course, waterslide and bonfire pit, each day is a new adventure!
Equine Activity Director
“Mr. Lynn,” as he is known here at the Ranch, was in Arizona working at a gorgeous guest ranch as head wrangler. It was a wonderful position in a beautiful location, but it was a training ground and God was at work. The thoughts, “I feel I’m not serving the Lord as well as I might” kept running through his mind. He prayed, “God, lead me to work with kids and horses.” Well, God does hear and answer prayers! And now as the director of equine activities, Mr. Lynn works with hundreds of kids each year through the summer programs, develops and leads equine-assisted learning and equine-assisted psychotherapy sessions for kids throughout the year, leads the drill team, gives riding lessons, takes care of our incredible indoor arena and provides for about 35 horses throughout the year.
I am just a sinner saved by grace. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 I am blessed to be a part of the Wildwood team and in this place where the main focus is showing God’s unconditional love to children at-risk. It is a privilege to use my gifts of marketing and communications to help make a difference in the life of a child.
My story started with growing up and being home educated in a caring Christian home with wonderful parents and a loving older sister in Northeast Iowa. For my college debut, I attended NIACC first for my AA degree and then Iowa State University for my Bachelor’s in Marketing where I met the love of my life and now husband, Nick. I also enjoyed running track and cross country at NIACC and ISU.
After graduating ISU in May of 2014, I worked at Cargill for a year in grain farm marketing and then almost 3 years at Two Rivers Marketing on Bobcat and Doosan client accounts before I heeded the call to follow an opportunity to join Wildwood’s team. I am passionate about giving back to those around me, marathon and long-distance running, hiking, biking, camping, cooking and hanging out with my husband, family and friends.
I look forward to seeing Wildwood continue to make a huge impact and helping with Breaking cycles, Building Leaders and Transforming Communities. God is on the move!
My journey to live for Christ was cultivated on the first Mission Trip I had ever taken in my life, and that was here at Wildwood Hills Ranch in 2008. My heart was overtaken as I could feel the presence of God on these grounds. I continued to be a participant on teams, and served with my best friend whenever we could make it work on our own time. In 2010, the church I attend, and had started to work for, asked me to begin leading their mission teams to The Ranch! I led for 7 years and loved every moment of emotions, hard work and love for the children that team members engaged in! After 10 years of having this passion for The Ranch and a vision for working with teams, I was asked to join the staff to become their Missions Director. I am highly blessed!
I live in Minnesota during non-programming months with a husband that knows it is God’s calling for me to be at The Ranch for the summer months. I have children, grandchildren and friends that have served and experienced The Ranch with me for all these years!
My heart is to seek Jesus and make the mission experience the absolute best for all! My life was changed here and watching that happen for others fuels my soul! All for His glory!
Michelle Van Roekel
My journey to Wildwood Hills Ranch has been an unconventional one but I am amazed and filled with thankfulness when I look back and see how God orchestrated specific events in my life to bring me here! I graduated from Iowa State University in 2016 with a degree in Marketing and a passion for the outdoors which brought me up to Spokane, WA where I guided for a non-profit, faith-based outdoor ministry that provided outdoor adventures to youth at-risk. It was here that I discovered how broken the world really is when I heard stories of kids who had experienced homelessness, neglect, drug abuse, and abandonment from far too young of ages. My heart was so broken for these kids and so I decided to combine my passion for outdoor ministry with my skillset in marketing by transitioning from being a guide to a marketing director in order to share these kids’ stories and give a voice to the voiceless.
In 2019, I decided it was time to go back to my roots and live closer to family here in Iowa but I didn’t know how I could continue my passion for outdoor ministry with at-risk youth in a place with no glaciers, mountains, or whitewater. However, through a series of events and hearing more about the impact that The Ranch has had on eliminating child abuse in Iowa, I decided to join the team! I believe that the single most effective way to bring restoration and healing to anyone, including at-risk youth, is through the hope and redemption found in Jesus. As a follower of Jesus, I know my calling – to bring that life and hope to the world through proclaiming this good news! That is why I am overjoyed to work for Wildwood where the mission here is to provide hope and healing through God’s unconditional love.
I retired from telecommunications in 2010 and worked for a couple of places before finding my home here at The Ranch. I have a great and loving wife Chris and four wonderful children, Mike, Shawn, Cassie and Jennie. Chris and I also have four amazing grandchildren, Drake, Naomi, Natalya and Jackson. I thank God that a place like Wildwood Hills Ranch exists. The life altering things that God does for the children, through this facility, the people on staff and supporters is humbling. I feel privileged to be able to come to work every day and participate in what God is doing here.
Photos by Grant Webster Photography|www.grantwebsterphoto.com