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My Experience as a Session Leader by Shelly Hand, Board Member at GOYR

At the very heart of Graceful Oaks is the Session Program, which offers hope and emotional support for children experiencing emotional pain through mentoring, spending time with the horses, and various other activities. In 2017, we were able to provide 129 sessions (up from 41 in our first year)!!

It was my honor this last year (2017) to be able to mentor a child in the Session Program here at GOYR for the first time. At first, I was really nervous and wasn’t sure exactly I was supposed to do or if I was equipped to do it. I am not a counselor or a teacher and I don’t have any special degrees related to child development. I am simply a stay-at-home mom and a Jesus follower. I wasn’t sure that would be enough. But what I discovered is that leading a session really had nothing to do with me at all, but had everything to do with God and following his lead. What I found is that it was really about building trust and a relationship with a child and then allowing them to experience a place of freedom…a place where they could come and just be a child, carefree, leaving their worries behind and experiencing the beauty of God’s world as he intended. A place where they could experience Jesus’ love, encouragement, hope, and the true freedom that he offers each one of us.

My daughter Lauren, who went through the Youth Leadership Program in 2016, helped lead the sessions with me. Before every session, we would pray and ask God what he wanted the young girl that we were mentoring to know. And every time, God would give us a verse that we felt he wanted us to share with her. In this way, we found that God directed our time together with her. We knew what the focus would be, what God wanted her to hear from him. During the sessions our time together was spent doing simple things – chasing and catching chickens, collecting eggs, grooming horses, learning to put on the horse’s tack, some basic horseback riding, playing air hockey, and doing art projects. Simple, right? But also simply beautiful. There was a ton of laughter and lighthearted fun every time we met. But it was also very purposeful as we shared the verse God gave us and talked about what it meant and how it might apply to her life. Lauren and I wrote down the verses and gave them to her every week. Her mom later told me that she was keeping each note and verse in her treasure box of items that were special to her. What a wonderful gift to be a part of someone’s box of treasures! Her mom also told me that every week her daughter would ask when she could come back to the ranch, that she looked forward to coming as often as she could. I know that is not because of me or my daughter or anything we did or anything we brought of ourselves, but it was because of the love that God has for her and how she was able to experience that at Graceful Oaks. And that is what the session program at Graceful Oaks is all about, providing a place where children can find refuge and freedom from life’s storms and experience some of the perfect love that only comes from Jesus.

When I think about the session program I think of Mark 10:14 where Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Graceful Oaks is that place where children can come, not be hindered by the difficulties of life, and just experience simple and unbridled hope and joy.

Sessions for 2018 will begin in June and run through September. For more information on the Session Program, please go to

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