RidgeGate Up Close
Susan Mooney and Heather Lauren Quiroga of Tall Tales Ranch
“RidgeGate Up Close” is our series of interviews with people who make RidgeGate a more vibrant place. Read the unexpected stories of residents, workers and local leaders who live and work here. Know someone who has a unique perspective or life in RidgeGate? Contact us at email@example.com.
This month: Susan Mooney and Heather Lauren Quiroga of Tall Tales Ranch.
In 2016, the Schweiger Ranch Foundation provided 4.5 acres just east of the I-25/RidgeGate exit for the creation of Tall Tales Ranch. As the brainchild of Susan and Pat Mooney, the ranch is slated to become a home and gathering place for people like their son, Ross, who have Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). We spoke with Susan Mooney, Executive Director, and Heather Lauren Quiroga, Director of Development, about the need and vision for Tall Tales Ranch, and what the community can do to support their efforts.
Susan, you have three children, but your son Ross was the inspiration for Tall Tales Ranch. Please tell us why.
Susan: Our son, Ross, wasn’t born with a disability. When he was 14, we discovered he had an acquired brain injury that was the result of a genetic disease, called x-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, which deteriorates white brain matter and eventually will kill you. Ross had a bone marrow transplant that stopped the progression of the disease, but he was left with a brain injury.
Ross was also the inspiration for our name. After he got sick, he started to really perseverate on people’s sizes…particularly tall people. He also likes to stretch the truth.
You’ve said that you want your son, Ross, to learn from his community, but also for the community to learn from Ross. What can our community learn from people like Ross?
Susan: People have so much to learn about life and perspective from people with cognitive disabilities. My son, Ross, lives in the present moment, and he appreciates people for who they are. He is all about finding the good…about being positive.
Heather: If you’re not very close to someone in the IDD community, it’s possible that your only experience with this kind of diversity could be limited to someone who bags your groceries, for example. Our ambassadors love their work, but those opportunities are not enough for all of us to interact in a meaningful way.
How will Tall Tales Ranch create more meaningful opportunities for people to interact with individuals with IDD?
Heather: Our event barn will house a coffee shop that employs people with IDD, but we will also have all kinds of opportunities for our neighbors in Lone Tree and beyond to be part of the magic that is Tale Tales Ranch: fitness classes, live concerts, movie night and cultural opportunities. We are truly going to be a hub of neurodiversity.
Susan: The IDD community often gets left out of the “diversity” conversation when they have absolutely lived with discrimination and isolation. We want the community to interact with and employ people with IDD. We’ve had great conversations about this with local employers like Sky Ridge, Charles Schwab, and Morningstar Assisted Living.
We’re also purchasing a mobile coffee trailer so we can start having people connect Tall Tales Ranch with coffee. Once people start gathering more in public, we can’t wait to take our trailer to the free movies and concerts in RidgeGate and around the area.
Is it a requirement for residents of Tall Tales Ranch to have a disability?
Susan: We will have 32 residents, the majority of whom are from the IDD community, but we will also have neurotypical residents. They will be people that we will screen and vet—graduate students, teachers, and others from the community who are interested in being good neighbors. RidgeGate and the City of Lone Tree are actually very invested in having attainable, affordable housing units in Lone Tree, which are rare in the area, creating a win/win situation.
Your community event barn will also be a place where people with IDD can access vocational training. Will your trainings be open to the IDD community at large?
Heather: Yes! We know roughly 85% of people with special needs who are capable cannot find appropriate training or work, and most of them are unable to drive. Tall Tales Ranch was founded to answer this crisis, and I don’t think we could have landed in a better place. We are literally across the street from a light rail station, so we can become a hub of vocational learning for the entire region. RidgeGate and Lone Tree have done an extraordinary job of planning for quality of life.
Susan: Schweiger Ranch and RidgeGate were really drawn to the idea of partnering with us and supporting each other in our missions. Schweiger Ranch aims to preserve the western ranch heritage of the area through recreational and educational opportunities. The Tall Tales Ranchers will help support this mission by leading tours, tending to the animals, and maintaining the property.
Heather: Yes, we have a neurodiverse young professionals board that’s helping us craft our plan for the coffee trailer and coffee shop.
How can the community best support your efforts right now?
Susan: In July of 2020, our site improvement plan was approved by the City, and we kicked off our capital campaign in January of 2021. We began at a goal of $15,000,000, and at this point, need to raise roughly $12 million. We are looking for donors and sponsors who share our belief in inclusion and diversity to invest in a place that will benefit the entire community. We’re also accepting auction item donations. You can go to our website to find a variety of ways to support what we’re doing.
Heather: We also have so many fun ways to engage with us right now—even remotely. On Saturday, March 13th we are hosting a free, live, 30-minute virtual program called Lucky to Be Me: Coffee and Conversation with the Tall Tales Ranch Ambassadors. People with disabilities like autism and Down syndrome will talk about their challenges and differences that make them unique, grateful and fortunate. In August we will have our annual Talent Show, which will be virtual again this year.
What do you think success will ultimately look like for Tall Tales Ranch?
Susan: Most people don’t think about the issues that parents of special needs children face…the fact that you will probably have this person in your care for the rest of your life. We can and want to shine a light on this very real issue that many families experience. At the same time, simply placing people within proximity to one another doesn’t allow them experience “true, complete community.” Being intentional about integration allows us to create a model of inclusion that others can replicate. My goal is that one day we won’t need a place like Tall Tales Ranch—people will simply have enough experience interacting with diversity of all kinds that it becomes the norm.