Writing in The New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer explores the question of anonymity among big donors — what prompts an anonymous gift, and why do some philanthropists purposefully not want to remain anonymous? Why do so many givers ask that stuff be named after them: buildings, rooms, endowed professorships? Judeo-Christian tradition cautions against self-promotion. With charity, the medieval [...]
- Operating budget: $51,000 (2012)
- Headquarters: Raleigh, N.C.
- Purpose: To provide equestrian therapy to special-needs children in Wake County and the surrounding area.
Fulfilling Dreams for Special-Needs Children
For many developmentally challenged youngsters, a miracle is waiting on a 13-acre farm north of Raleigh: a horse.
Time on horseback can be life changing for special-needs children. Some children speak their first words while riding. Directing a powerful animal like a horse boosts confidence, improves coordination, and teaches valuable skills — skills that can set kids on a path to new life.
Such dreams come true every week at Helping Horse, a therapeutic riding program that helps children grow and develop through recreational activities with horses. Founded in 1989, Helping Horse serves an average of 30 riders each week.
The program is run entirely by volunteers — up to 75 a week — and has no paid staff. In 1997, the program moved to its current location on the White Farm north of Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I’ve had a lot of parents tell me that their kids are so much better today than they were in the past — in walking better and living better,” said Toni Hofsheier, who serves as Helping Horse’s instructor coordinator. “At the same time, I feel that I get a lot more out of it personally than the kids do. It’s very rewarding.”
Children in the program face a wide range of physical and mental challenges: autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injuries. For autism, Hofsheier says that she sees a wide spectrum — with some children, it’s difficult to tell that anything is wrong, while others are low functioning and nonverbal.
“The movement of a horse actually simulates movement of a human being walking, and that’s a great boost for our kids who have trouble walking,” said Hofsheier. “It helps their upper body core strength. It helps their leg muscles. It helps their attention span, because they have to concentrate on what their instructors say.”
An added benefit: Many families of special-needs children already face high medical and therapy costs, so Helping Horse offers a low-cost avenue for recreation.
“The wonderful thing is that our kids are getting excellent mental and physical therapy, but to them it’s not therapy at all. It’s just fun,” Hofsheier said.
Stories of transformation
Hofsheier has many heart-warming stories about how kids’ lives have been changed for the better. One autistic boy started riding with Helping Horse when he was a 5-year-old. At the time, he was completely nonverbal and nonresponsive. He would make sounds, but never form complete words.
Over the course of several lessons, he began saying the command words “walk on” to the horse.
“Now, at 12 years old, he’s talking a lot,” Hofsheier said. “He’s our best speller. He can spell words that you would never think he’d be able to spell.”
Another young woman was in a wheelchair. Routinely, the horses would walk up to her and put their heads in her lap. Normally, horses would be scared of the chair, but they seem to have an innate understanding about the children.
“The horses react to the children in a very gentle way,” Hofsheier said.
In December 2012, the John William Pope Foundation was proud to announce a $5,000 grant to Helping Horse. The Foundation remains committed to Helping Horse’s mission.
“Helping Horse does so much with so little,” said Caroline Russell, chairwoman of Helping Horse’s board of directors. “With this group, every bit that is donated goes straight to helping kids because we have no paid staff.”