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about rancho feliz

Rancho Feliz was founded by brothers Gil and Troy Gillenwater and has worked to improve the lives of the poor on the Arizona/Mexico border since 1987. It was originally formed to provide food, clothing and shelter to abandoned children along the Mexican border.

Since 1987, Rancho Feliz has raised and invested over $10 million dollars to build homes, education centers, childcare centers, orphanages, and volunteer dormitories along Arizona’s southern border. This infrastructure has provided the foundation for entire families to lift themselves from extreme poverty into the global middle class.

We have also provided over 20,000 US volunteers a way to feed their souls by serving the less fortunate. Along the way we have funded over 2,000 scholarships; distributed tons of food and medical supplies; provided aid to the fragile Tarahumara tribe; and even created a dog program to help out man’s best friend in Mexico.


Over the years the Rancho Feliz Foundation has grown to the point where its principal focus is now twofold.

Education Opportunities 

One, Rancho Feliz offers educational opportunities to those living in Mexico. With our various scholarship and learning programs, we now provide educational opportunities to qualifying barrio children from 40 days old up through University. This is how we believe you change the world.

Volunteer Opportunities

And two, and equally as important, Rancho Feliz provides on-border volunteer opportunities to those of us living in the United States. Under this program 1,000 volunteers a year – mostly young adults, travel to the border and help the less fortunate. At Rancho Feliz we call this “enlightened self-interest” and it means improving the quality of your own life by serving those not born into the same circumstances. And it works. To date, over 20,000 Rancho Feliz volunteers have traveled to Mexico and fed their souls by serving others.

This two-pronged focus fosters a symbiotic relationship where givers become receivers and receivers become givers. At Rancho Feliz we provide an arena where both sides benefit equally from the same service transaction.

Since its inception, Rancho Feliz has invested over $10 million in donations into its various programs along the Arizona/Mexico border. However, according to Foundation President, Gil Gillenwater, “Charity is a tricky business. Welfare doesn’t work. That is why all of our Rancho Feliz programs are meticulously designed to nurture and liberate human potential – not stifle it through well-intentioned though misguided charitable handouts.”

Rancho Feliz is a volunteer-based organization with approximately 94¢ out of every dollar going directly into its charitable programs. Rancho Feliz’s accomplishments over the years in both fundraising, construction and education are unprecedented.

Russ Lyon Charitable Foundation

Since 2016, $38,000 has been dedicated towards Rancho Feliz education programs, sponsorships for underprivileged children, and food distributions by the Russ Lyon Charitable Foundation. We are proud to continue to support an organization started by Arizonans who believe in getting things done.

Click here for a Phoenix Business Journal article about how Gil Gillenwater inspires volunteers

Russ Lyon Charitable Foundation food distribution at Rancho Feliz.

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