Statement of Faith

The staff, board, and founders of Hope Lives Youth Ranch believe that Jesus is the one true Son of God, Savior, Redeemer, and Coming King. We are not affiliated with any single denomination. It is our greatest desire to serve God by demonstrating our faith in action.

At Hope Lives Youth Ranch, our goal is to put a smile on every face that comes through the barn doors. We love to see improvement in the children that visit us, but mostly we want them to simply understand that we love and support them. If they look forward to their sessions with us as a bright spot in a hard week, we have done our job.


We produce our Newsletter on a monthly basis to keep you up to date on the latest around the ranch. If you would like to sign up for a PDF copy, click here.

Edition topics

Meet the team


Founder/Director/Board member

I have been working with horses since 1997 and teaching beginner riding lessons since 2007. In 2011, I started to study equine behavior and anxiety extensively through various horsemen including Warwick Schiller, Sheila McElwee, Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, and others. I had intended to make horsemanship my career. Luckily, I broke my leg when a colt fell on me in 2016 and God used the pause in my life to show me how horses and humans were remarkably similar in the way they process and carry trauma. After a year of research, soul searching, and paperwork later, Hope Lives was born.

But who I am and what I have done are not nearly as important as who I know. I know the most powerful person on the planet. He is my best friend, actually. He tells me secrets and gives me dreams. Everything I have learned about working with youth, I have learned from him. I have seen him heal broken hearts and broken bodies before my eyes. Anything and everything I have to offer comes from him. It is my deepest desire to introduce you to him because as much as he loves me, he loves you the same. King Jesus.


I am the co-founder of Hope Lives Youth Ranch. My vision for the program began in 2004 while living in Northern Idaho. It wasn’t until I moved back to Illinois and teamed up with Emily in Fall 2015 that my dream began to be realized. I grew up in southern Illinois with horses and frequently showed them through the local saddle club. I have a master’s degree in Education and is an Illinois certified art teacher. I have taught children and adults with special needs and have the heart to help at-risk youth. To prepare for my role in founding Hope Lives Youth Ranch, I completed training at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, Oregon learning how to start and run an equine-therapy based program. 

My husband, Rick, and I own 21 acres of farmland that the program may develop as it expands. It is currently used to grow hay for program horses. I also own Catalyst Creative, a pottery studio in Monticello, which offers clay classes for children and adults.

Cindy has been married to Rick since 1999. They live in Monticello with their two boys.

board of directors

Board Member

I first heard about the vision for Hope Lives Youth Ranch while taking horseback riding lessons from Emily. During my working career, I developed a chain of 19 supermarkets in Central Illinois and Western Indiana, but I was always intrigued by horses. It wasn’t until after retirement that I began taking lessons and bought my own horse, George. When I learned about Emily’s dream of helping at-risk youth through equine-assisted mentoring, I decided to partner with the program by becoming a founding board member and board treasurer.  I hope to contribute to the program with my years of business and financial experience, as well as a heart to help youth. We found several ways to help youth during my career, including using store profits to donate to organizations such as Little League teams, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue that focus on helping youth through HLYR.

Vic lives in Champaign with Bonnie, his wife. They have two grown sons.

Tiffani HenryBoard Member

I grew up with a true love for animals, especially dogs and horses, and began taking riding lessons at age 8. After graduating high school, I had the opportunity to attend & graduate from the Kentucky Equine Institute in Lexington KY, an educational program run by The Kentucky Horse Park. There I was exposed to “The Mustang Troop”, which pairs inner-city youth with wild mustangs caught & green broke in Nevada. I witnessed the transformation of these kids as they worked with horses and developed a sense of responsibility, compassion, and self-esteem. Emily told me about her idea for Hope Lives Youth Ranch while my daughter was taking riding lessons from her in 2014. We quickly got involved & contributed the use of our Appaloosa, Cezar, to the program. I hope to bring my passion for animals & belief in the power of equine-assisted mentoring to my position as a board member, along with my entrepreneurial spirit and experience.

Tiffani lives in Champaign with her husband David. Together they have two children, Isaac and Lauryn.

Board Member

I grew up with a passion for horses, riding, and working at stables throughout my teen years. My work with horses provided an avenue for comfort and self-confidence as I struggled through persistent teen depression. Working in the public school setting as a speech therapist, I discovered my desire to help children struggling with special needs. That desire carried through in my work directing a child-sponsorship program in Haiti. During multiple trips to schools in Haiti, I witnessed life-changing results as loving adults invested in the lives of underprivileged students. I hope to bring my love for horses and commitment to help young people, as well as the administrative experience of running a non-profit, to my position on the Board of Directors.

Pam is recently retired and lives in Urbana with her husband Bob. They moved from Florida in September of 2017 to be near their two married sons and three grandchildren living in Champaign.

Board Member

I grew up in Colorado and have always loved horses. This led me to volunteer at Hope Lives Youth Ranch after reading about the ranch in Champaign’s New Gazette. Volunteering at the ranch fits my desire to work with an organization geared towards helping youth. Previously, I was a small group leader through our church and have hosted many high school ministries in our home. I also mentored for two years with the CU One-To-One Mentoring Program, run by 
Champaign Public Schools. In my role as a board member, I bring my work experience with sales strategy, marketing, and research from the property and corporate level of the hospitality industry. My experience with fundraisers, while my kids were in school, will be useful as HLYR continues to build a financial base. I also enjoy using my love of photography to visually document the program. Time at the ranch allows me to help with barn and property maintenance, as well as love on the donkeys and horses. 

Juli lives with her husband, Rob, in Champaign. They have two grown sons, a grown daughter, and two dogs.

Liz MackeyBoard Member

My son, Avery, aged 14, was the first student enrolled in the Hope Lives Youth Ranch mentoring program. As a Monticello School District student, his teacher heard about the program when Emily gave a presentation at his school.  Avery’s teacher immediately referred him. Avery has autism with sensory issues. Since the program began in 2018, the ranch has become his quiet place. Being around the horses helps calm him. I want him to continue with the program as long as possible. Being on the board is my way of contributing to the program. Currently, I coordinate the Domestic Violence Program in Piatt County. I began working on a domestic violence hotline in California 18 years ago. Since then I have earned my B.A. degree and have gained an understanding of the needs of at-risk children and knowledge of community resources available for at-risk families. I bring my years of experience and connections with the community to the board of directors, as well as a creative outside approach to running the program. 

Liz lives in Monticello with her son Avery and daughter Violet.

the horses

Cezar a special boy. When you pull into the drive you can’t miss him. He is a 2002 roan Appaloosa owned by Tiffani Henry, and she is generously letting us use him for the program during the summer. We could not be more blessed! Cezar has a unique mutation on one of his genes that causes him to have trouble growing hair, so his tail and mane are very short and he doesn’t get very fluffy in the winter. We help him fight the flies and the cold with fly spray, light summer sheets, and heavy winter blankets.

This social boy came from a good loving home just like Keo. He is another one of our reliable foundation horses.

Cezar has spent the majority of his life teaching kids the ropes of riding. He is one of the most forgiving horses you will ever meet and tries his heart out in everything he does. He first became a lesson horse at Stanton Stables in 2009 teaching riders there the basics of walk/trot/canter. He was then bought by a twelve-year-old girl as her first horse. Cezar helped her to develop into the rider she is today. Together they learned to jump and the basics of dressage. The pair attended countless dressage/jumping/cross country clinics from the years of 2014 through 2016. They also went to a number of dressage shows and competed at the Training Level. Unfortunately, although Cezar’s mind and heart held all the talent to go further, his body restricted him from exploring more challenging adventures with his rider, so she made the decision to find him a new home and retire him from jumping. He will, however, always excel in capturing hearts and teaching beginners how to ride. We are so blessed to have Cezar as a team member!

Faith was probably born in 2009 or 2010 and we are pretty certain she is a Quarter Horse, but we will never be sure. She is considered a liver chestnut and is about an inch too tall to be considered a pony. We don’t know much about Faith’s past because she was rescued from the slaughter pen at an auction. This means if Emily had not bought her, she would have been killed. Emily bought her through a friend, sight unseen. That is generally not something you do in the horse world because it is so easy to scam someone that way, but Emily says “God encouraged me to save her. He spoke more clearly to me on that day than He does most days, but the prospect of “breaking the rules” frightened me. Luckily, God doesn’t usually follow the rules.”
She drove down to Kansas City to pick the mare up and bring her home. To our surprise, she walked right on the trailer without hesitation. We like to think she knew we were there to help her. Since she was bought at auction, Faith required a 30-day quarantine to make sure she didn’t pick up any kind of illness at the auction house, so once we got her back to Illinois she had to stay in the barn without any other horses for company. Emily spent a lot of time with her but knew she was lonely.

On day 4 there was a terrible wind storm and it actually blew the door off of the barn, setting Faith free. Emily looked up from working on the house and saw the little horse running through the empty cornfield. Her first thought was, oh, she looks so pretty, and then she realized what was happening. Usually, when a horse gets out it isn’t a huge deal. They generally stop to eat grass somewhere nearby and you can catch them fairly quickly. Not Faith. She was terrified, the wind was gusting at 60 miles per hour and she didn’t really have a solid relationship with any of us yet. At one point she was only feet away from getting hit by a train. We followed her for four hours across 26 miles before she finally tired out and let us catch her. Emily had thought about calling her Freckles, but this little adventure solidified her chosen name. 

Now that Faith has been with us for a few years, we are happy to say we have developed a sweet relationship with one another. She is very sensitive to the emotions of the person she is working with. If you are trying to hide how you are feeling she becomes nervous and uncertain, but if you put it all out there and just be yourself, Faith is happy to be by your side. She still requires a gentle touch. We are uncertain of what her past holds, but if you become the least bit rough with her she braces and retreats within herself. It has been interesting to learn about helping people who have been through trauma because we see a lot of what we are learning about in her. 

This little girl has a mind of her own, and takes a little bit of convincing when it is time to work, but she loves scratches in all the right places and treats of any kind. Emily likes to say, “Faith will always have a special place in my heart, and I have a feeling she will never stop teaching me.”

Winston is a 2013 registered Gypsy Vanner gelding.  He is the shortest guy in the barn and quite possibly the heaviest. The Gypsy Vanner breed was developed from the Shire, Clydesdale, and Fell pony breeds in the UK, which means they are a very hairy small draft horse! Winston has a long, thick mane and tail, and feather over his hooves. He even grows a mustache in the winter!

Winston was adored by his previous family. He lost his sight in both eyes in April of 2019 for an unknown reason, but he adapted beautifully. They decided to donate him to Hope Lives in July of 2020 where he could teach students to be as determined as he is. 

This little man loves to eat! If you see him in the pasture, he will be wearing a grazing muzzle because he becomes overweight so easily. He also wears a fly mask to protect his eyes from flies and injury. Jack and Mabel keep him company as all the big horses moving around him make Winston a little anxious. 

We treat Winston just like any other horse in the barn. He knows commands to step over things and to warn him when he is going the wrong way, but other than that, his blindness is not as much of a handicap as one would think! We ride him around the arena and down the road at the walk and trot just like everyone else. He is definitely a wonder pony!

Cashew is a solid-bred Paint horse born in 2004, owned by Elizabeth Clark. He is a gorgeous palomino gelding and just as sweet as he is pretty! Cash’s owner brought him to the ranch in the summer of 2021 and he fit in perfectly with our mentoring program. This horse looks like a warrior with his collection of scars from past injuries but he doesn’t let that stop him from being patient and kind. He fights for our kid’s hearts and brings smiles to everyone who touches him. 

Cash has had experience in everything from being a show horse to being a kid’s horse. This boy is as honest as they come and very very brave. He is always ready to play and will hold his lead rope in his mouth for you or push around our giant ball.

This big bold gelding loves all things sweet, including the donkeys. In fact, he has picked Black Jack as his best friend, much to the donkey’s dismay! Jack isn’t super fond of Cash but puts up with the doting and worrying admirably. Although Winston is there to keep him company, Cashew is always very concerned about where his donkey friend is off to.