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Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Finding new roots

Former counselor opens ranch for healing
Since+opening+up+Roots+Renewal+Ranch+on+Nov.+1%2C+Michelle+Schwolert+has+six+residents+currently.
Claire McMahon
Since opening up Roots Renewal Ranch on Nov. 1, Michelle Schwolert has six residents currently.

Former student assistance counselor Michelle Schwolert was working at the school in her office on Nov. 11, 2020 when her mother texted her to meet her in the parking lot. She had newsHer brother Nathan Marks had died from an overdose on fentanyl-laced cocaine. Nathan, 33, had struggled with drug addiction for over 20 years.

Michelle was crushed. She dropped to the ground, devastated. Her husband Matthew, who also taught at the school, and fellow counselor Kelly Young joined her at her side.

Nathan had overdosed several times in years before but had always survived.

“When you actually get the call…I still don’t think that you can be prepared enough to feel the finality of somebody passing,” Michelle said.

Nathan graduated from Flower Mound High School and was a member of the wrestling team. Michelle remembers him for his snarky, tell-it-like-it-is personality. He could become friends with anyone in a split second.

Nathan checked into rehab facilities multiple times over the 20 years he struggled with cocaine addiction. He was clean for two years and had spoken at the school during Red Ribbon Week the year before he relapsed.

“He never blamed anyone for his addiction,” Michelle said. “He always took accountability for it.”

A few weeks before he died, Michelle and Nathan were in their parents’ house where they discussed starting a program together to help drug addicts. In North Texas alone, 20 percent of teens said they have used drugs illegally, according to Fort Behavior Health.

Michelle credits her late brother Nathan Marks for her starting the ranch. He struggled with addiction for 20 years. (Photo submitted by Michelle Schwolert)

Michelle was no stranger to teen drug and mental health problems in the North Texas area. In the beginning of last year, she remembers referring several students to inpatient mental health facilities. During the school year, she heard about four school alumni that died from drug overdoses.

In March 2021, four months after Nathan died, Michelle decided to put their plan into action.

“I was like, ‘I can’t take this anymore,'” Michelle said. “I cannot watch one more person die from this.”

With the support of her family, she purchased the land for a ranch in April 2021. Over the course of the summer and fall she built the program up, hiring therapists and other employees. They opened Roots Renewal Ranch on Nov. 1, 2021. Roots can have up to 18 female residents who stay for 60 to 90 days. They currently have six aged 13-17, who are mainly from North Texas, with some coming from LISD schools.

While she intended to make a co-ed facility at first, Michelle changed her mind after learning that there was only one mental health facility in the North Texas area for teen girls.

I cannot watch one more person die from this.

— Michelle Schwolert

Michelle said that her time at the school prepared her.

“I can’t overstate the value of my time as a student assistance counselor, and how much that benefited this process,” Michelle said.

• • •

The residents follow a schedule every day, which includes therapy, chores and outdoor time with the alpacas, llamas, rabbits, goats and other animals of the ranch.
Michelle said not every resident is receptive to the program at first, but most grow to accept that they need help.

“They’re comfortable with chaos,” Michelle said. “But then after they’re here just even a few days, they feel how safe and loved they are.”

The residents of Roots Renewal take care of animals, like goats, as part of their daily routines. (Claire McMahon)

Out of all the clients she’s had, Michelle remembers Madison*, the very first resident. She arrived at Roots addicted to Percocet laced with fentanyl. She had been in and out of treatment facilities and hospitals multiple times.

“Her mom and dad just didn’t know what to do with her,” Michelle said. “She was basically poisoning her body.”

She had come in with a broken family relationship, thinking she wouldn’t last the first 30 days. Now, Madison mended her bonds with them and has been clean since Oct. 31.

“She’s following the program exactly as she needs to and it’s working,” Michelle said. “I’m just incredibly proud of her.”

Some Schwolert family members work on the ranch. Zoey Schwolert, Michelle’s niece, is the Client Services and Marketing Director. She said that after struggling with her mental health for years, Zoey chose to help girls facing similar problems. Now, she shares her family with the residents.

“I just felt really called to help the young ladies here at Roots,” Zoey said. “I have never been able to see some of my family members in this light before. It’s really cool to see our clients start to latch on to my real family as their own family.”

• • •

The Friday night before Roots Renewal opened, Michelle stood at the porch of the ranch house. She gazed at the wide landscape dotted with llama and alpaca pens. She took a photo of the scene before her with the fall sunset in the background.

Michelle remembers thinking, What did I get myself into?

But at the same time, she knew the ranch would be a place for the girls to heal. To change their lives.

“The whole process was very God-led,” Michelle said. “I’m sure Nathan had a part of it too.”

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

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About the Contributor
Shriya Mukkavilli, Managing and Online Editor
Shriya Mukkavilli (she/her) is a senior and this year’s managing and online editor. When she’s not finessing the online publication, she spends wayyyy too much time buying jewelry on Etsy or looking up indie artists to fuel her individuality complex. Since this is her third and final year on staff, she’s looking forward to what the staffers create this year and helping them grow. 

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