Finding the Spark in Each Person

Mar 5, 2024 | Businesses, Communities, Events, Freeport, Walton & Beyond

Students at Westonwood Ranch bagging homegrown lettuce.

Westonwood Ranch provides purpose for people with special needs

By Wendy O. Dixon

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) want the same things all people want — to have purpose, to be loved and understood, and to be able to help contribute to society. As a group, they are underemployed and underestimated. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an estimated 85% of adults with autism are excluded from the workforce.

Lindy Wood discovered that her son, Weston, needed extensive care for his autism when he was diagnosed at age two with ASD. She and her husband, Jason Wood, made the decision to move their family of six from Alabama to Freeport in 2015, as the resources were limited where they had lived.


“I noticed Weston’s unique bond with animals of all kinds and the peace and tranquility nature provided him,” Lindy explains. “From the time he learned to walk, Weston has been intrigued with nature … often pulling every eggplant from our small family garden and coveting it like a small typically-developing child does with a new toy. I watched him get eye to eye with our horses and explore every single facial detail that I am certain we all fail to appreciate or even recognize.”

Detail picture of seedling coming out of dirt.

She and Jason founded Westonwood Ranch to help others with similar needs. Located in Freeport, the ranch provides therapeutic programs designed to fill the transition gap from high school into adulthood for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disorders (IDD) by incorporating functional learning opportunities in a therapeutic farm environment.

The ranch offers participants the freedom to find their talent and skills. As their abilities vary from person to person, so do the lessons provided to each individual. The opportunities to increase their level of independence include social and communication skills, daily living skills and several others. Some work with the animals, taking care of their daily needs. Some work in the greenhouse, where they grow butter lettuce and other greens. The workers provide these locally sourced products to the community, partnering with local restaurants (Cuvee 30A, FOOW, Sweet Southern Comfort, Cafe Thirty-A and PB&J Café) to bring farm-to-table aquaponic lettuce to local menus. In addition, they have partnered with Coastal Blue Nursery to grow retail/wholesale native-to-Florida plants.  

Westonwood Students loading their harvest to deliver to local restaurants.

The goal of the program is for the participants to increase independence, gain self-confidence, obtain gainful employment and transition successfully into adulthood. Future plans include an expansion project that offers affordable housing options.

“We all desire to be a part of a community and live as independently as possible, including those with developmental disabilities,” Lindy says. “Having a home of one’s own is the cornerstone of independence. However, those affected with IDD face a severe housing crisis. In our county, region and nationwide for that matter, people with disabilities experience an affordability crisis. They are reliant on supplemental security income (SSI) which averages around $12,000 per year (low enough to be priced out of every rental housing market).  Many are currently residing with aging caregivers and many of these individuals could be faced with homelessness or institutionalization. The availability of affordable accessible housing is far less than the need. Westonwood Ranch is stepping in to address this need locally through a planned 30-acre expansion project to include affordable housing options for those living with IDD. Housing options will promote the highest level of independence for the individual but will offer support services, employment assistance and transportation services as needed to set the residents up with success.” 

All people deserve opportunities to exercise independence, Lindy continues. “This is just one additional way that Westonwood Ranch wants to come alongside families and individuals in need that face challenges related to their disability.” 

Lively Rodeo image

Pro Rodeo

Dust off your boots and get ready to rodeo! The 5th Annual Westonwood Ranch PCA Rodeo returns to the City of Freeport Sports Complex March 22nd –23rd, 2024.

The professionally sanctioned rodeo will benefit Westonwood Ranch, an organization whose mission and programs serve teens and young adults with Autism and related developmental disorders.

Sponsors of the rodeo have banner adds on the fence.

Tickets for the Westonwood Ranch PCA Rodeo are sold at the gate for $20.00 for adults and $15.00 for children 12 years and younger. Free admission for children ages 2 and under. There will be no presale of tickets, so spectators are encouraged to arrive early. Westonwood Ranch is actively seeking additional local business sponsorships for this event.


For more information about how to support the rodeo and Westonwood Ranch, email or visit our website at


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