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Shangrila: A reintroduction to nature

There is a place in South Boston, down Cluster Springs’ winding road, where horses happily graze in great pastures, and people come from around the globe to stay in houses up to 200 years old. 

You may have heard of this place, Shangrila, a guest ranch owned by Julie and Gary Holmes. 

Over the past 10 years, they’ve built a reputation for reintroducing folks to the beauty of nature, guiding people through trails across the countryside on horseback. 

You may have met this couple, seen them around town with their two children. Maybe they’ve led you on one of their hourly trail rides, or you spent a weekend at their ranch, leaving feeling like a member of the family.

What you may not know about Shangrila is that they have recently brought in a young woman named Casey Ravitz. 

Ravitz is a New Yorker who earned her B.A. in psychology at DePaul University, in Chicago, Ill. While there, she worked at her college’s Center for Community Research, as well as Northwestern University as an intern for their Quit for Health program. 

She’s also attained certifications as an equine specialist in animal assisted therapies. After visiting Shangrila in January, she eschewed the big city life for that of rural Virginia, moving down at the beginning of March.

In those few short days in January, she fell in love with the countryside, with the horses at Shangrila, and the people she met here. 

During the two months between her visit and her official move, she thought a lot about what she could do for the community of South Boston, how Shangrila’s land and animals could benefit the county. This is when the idea for creating Return to Nature, a non for profit after school program, was born. 

While Halifax County’s school system offers a large variety of vocational classes, she said she felt there was something missing for the younger generation. 

Research shows that many of South Boston’s children return home to an empty house, while their parent’s are still working hard to provide for them.

Through her experiences, and the conversations she’s had with teachers and parents throughout the area, she said she began to formulate a plan for an after school program for the youth of South Boston. 

This after school program would revolve around activities meant to spark the interest of this town’s youngsters, with a curriculum including topics such as carpentry, horse training, livestock care, natural survival, gardening and land conservation. 

Her hope is that these activities will encourage children to put down their Gameboys, to turn off their computers and appreciate the world around them. 

The Holmeses completely support this idea and said they are excited to allow Ravitz to use their land and animals to benefit the county’s youth.

Not just in Virginia, but also all over America, young people are struggling to build confidence. Self-esteem is hard to find within this new world, Ravitz said. 

Return to Nature aims to give children something tangible to be proud of, a garden they planted with their own hands, a bird house to bring home as a gift for mom and dad. 

This program also would benefit the teens of the area, using them as mentors for the younger children. Return to Nature hopes to give the youth of the area positive role models. As a non for profit, Return to Nature hopes to offer low or no cost care for children after school while teaching them the value of their home.

At this point in time, Ravitz said she is looking for individuals who are versed in the curriculum she wishes to offer, those who know the countryside and its secrets well enough to pass them on to children. 

While she is versed in horse care and self-esteem building activities, there are many topics left that need professionals to pass their knowledge onto the children of Southside Virginia. 

Her hope is that this article may find its way into the hands of some of those people. 

Anyone interested can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit