What would you do with 40 paid hours to volunteer? I decided to help out at Kids and Horses, an equine therapy riding program in Minden, Nevada, that serves special needs children and adults. Their students range from 4-years-old to 54-years-old. And thanks to the Vail Resorts Epic Volunteer program, I have been able to help out for an entire session.
So, why exactly did I pick Kids and Horses? Well, I grew up on a farm and ranch in the Texas Panhandle, where my father, an avid team roper, also trained ranch horses as a hobby. I could ride a horse before I could ride a bike. Seriously, I could. Then, when I was in college and babysitting for a family friend, it was realized that the 2-year-old boy was displaying the behavioral signs associated with autism. My interactions with him opened my eyes to autism and the effect it has on an entire family.
The overall effects of equine therapy riding programs are not always immediate. For some, it takes several classes or sets of six-week sessions to see a benefit. But, there are instances where immediate results occur, as in the case of MJ. During his first ever lesson at Kids and Horses, MJ, who is autistic, did not want to get on the horse. He refused even. However, through the continuous encouragement of the volunteers and instructor, MJ mounted the horse. As soon as the horse began walking, MJ calmed down. The horse’s movements were comforting and calming. Now, many lessons later, MJ interacts with the instructor and has improved significantly at following directions.
My first day at the ranch as a volunteer, I was observing a class and fell into conversation with the father of one student, a 4-year-old boy. He told me about how he’d already seen the results of the class translate into his son’s everyday life. His son reacts better, or more calmly, in changing circumstances in public situations. They take his riding helmet home with them, and when the dad gets it out for the lessons, his son gets excited. He knows what that helmet means and begins grinning. That grin never leaves his face as he rides around the arena during class.
There are many, many more stories like this. But, what I found just as interesting, are the stories of the behind-the-scenes people. The volunteers that help this program function.
For every student in a class, it takes three volunteers and an instructor…plus, the horse. These volunteers have been very welcoming to a new-comer and have made me feel like I’ve been helping out at Kids and Horses for years, not just weeks. You can see the bond that has formed over time between the volunteers and each of the students. These volunteers see the small steps of progression the students they’ve worked with for weeks, maybe even months, make and they rejoice. During the class, they act as if nothing happened, trying not to distract the student from the task at hand, but after the class, they quickly begin chatting and grinning, regaling the milestone they just witnessed. I have so much respect for these volunteers and the employees at Kids and Horses. I also have a tremendous respect for the parents of these students. Patience is a virtue, and these remarkable individuals possess it.
So, back to my initial question, what would you do with 40 volunteer hours?
~ Sally Gunter, Public Relations Coordinator
More on Epic Volunteers: Epic Volunteers provides Vail Resorts employees with the chance to have a more enriching, in-depth Experience of a Lifetime, and to continue their commitment to Do Good in the resort communities or around the world by awarding them with paid time off for volunteer projects. This summer, 21 employees will contribute 840 hours of service to 18 deserving non-profit organizations. The summer 2013 Epic Volunteer class also includes a few others from Lake Tahoe: Nate Del Pozo and Rebecca Strmiska, High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew; Frank Papandrea, Clean Tahoe; Andrew and Mary Ellen Pearlman, Retro Farms, Hawaii; and Whitney Wall, Girls on the Run.