Your help makes miracles happen. That’s what the families and therapists who work with the children you support through The Red Thread Promise - Jacob’s Fund’s tell us. Harper-Lynn is one of those children, and this is her story.
"She changed before my eyes!" says Tara.
We're standing outside the fence of the indoor arena at McKenna Farms, watching as Harper- Lynn, Tara's 2-1/2-year-old daughter, gives a command for her horse to stop and starts using the horse-shaped whistle her therapist, Rachel, has just handed her.
Harper-Lynn is smiling and talking with Rachel in the bumble-bee voice of a very young child. And Harper-Lynn is little - the smallest helmet is too big for her, so she's wearing a Queen Elsa Frozen hat under it.
Four months ago, Harper-Lynn began hippotherapy, after nearly a year of frightening, disheartening events. At eighteen months, her vocabulary included three hundred words. Then, suddenly, something happened. Within three months, her vocabulary dwindled to thirty-five words; she lost muscle tone and began falling down, and she began having aggression and sensory issues.
As we watch her ride, it seems almost impossible that we’re talking about the same child. She’s composed, sitting upright, carrying out the therapy tasks Rachel gives her.
When she began hippotherapy in November of 2014, Harper-Lynn still wasn’t talking or interacting with those around her, even after several months of therapy delivered in the standard indoor setting.
“But Spirit, her horse, wouldn’t move unless she gave commands: Stop! Go!” says Rachel.
And so she gave the command, and took off, on her horse and in her speech.
Now, Tara says, her favorite subject of conversation is Spirit. She’s always asking, “When can I ride Spirit again?”
Rachel reports that Harper-Lynn has made gains in language and communication, as well as social skills. “The horse is a big draw for her. Her strength and endurance have improved. During therapy, in order to reach the toys we use, she has to reach beyond midline, get the toy, then correct to midline. She’s doing this on the horse using her core muscles, not her arms.”
“And,” she adds, “She has good carryover at home. Her mom continues to work with her.”
Tara’s summation of her daughter’s improvement is less clinical, but just as clear. “People who know us, people at our church, say the change is miraculous. They cry when they see what she is able to do now.”
As she says this, there are tears in her eyes, and mine, tears of joy. Hers for the little girl dismounting from her horse near where we stand. Mine for Jacob Noah Beachy, my grandson, who began hippotherapy here in 2006 and talked about his horse, too, and whose spirit lives on in the lives of little ones like Harper-Lynn through the scholarships we provide in his memory.
“I want more children to have this opportunity,” says Tara.
So do we, Tara. So do our supporters.
It’s through the generosity of people like you, our Global Giving donors, that we are able to change the lives of children like Harper-Lynn. Thank you.
Life is different with Kyle. It’s a kind of different that many other families understand, though. And those are the families Jacob’s Fund serves.
As a supporter of Jacob’s Fund‘s project, “Give Equine Therapy to Children with Disabilities,” we know that you like to keep up with “our kids" because your heart is with these families as well.
Kyle is one of “our kids;” he receives hippotherapy at Hilltop Equestrian Center in West Alexandria, Ohio.
Kyle is 8-1/2, but his severe autism means he and his entire family are “stuck in toddlerhood.” He’s still nonverbal and, though a tall boy from two tall parents, he still needs his diapers changed. Unable to communicate, he often becomes frustrated.
Stressful? Yes. Challenging? Certainly. And to be honest, sometimes sad.
But Kyle isn’t a burden, as his mom, Kelli explains. Her blog about life with Kyle is titled “Not Just Anyone” because Kyle is not just anyone, but an exceptional blessing.
So what has your support for this exceptional blessing meant over the last year and a half, and what does it mean as he continues hippotherapy at Hilltop Equestrian Center?
Well, we’re rooting for Kyle to become verbal, both for the delight of hearing him communicate and because it will greatly lower his frustration level. And since he’s been receiving hippotherapy, he’s begun to enjoy vocalization and he has started to refer to people and objects using the same vocalization each time. He’s also recently learned to wave “Bye.”
Hippotherapy reinforces Kyle’s learning at his new school for children with autism. Amy, his therapist, is excited about Kyle’s progress. “He’s made so much progress! Especially with sequencing and attention to task. Now we’re working on letter identification.”
Kyle is delighted by his favorite videos, riding under bridges and through tunnels, eating pizza, laughing and screaming as his family makes calls on him with the referee penalty flag he got for Christmas. He enjoys his special needs Sunday School class (and the elevator ride he takes to get there). And he delights in giving hugs and affection, sitting on Mom and Dad’s laps. When Daddy tickles him and “wrestles” with him, his laughter delights his family as well.
And he’s a speed demon, always wanting his horse to go faster. Amy, his therapist, has had to change his horse because he needed more horsepower.
Kyle’s progress is exciting. His continued hippotherapy is an essential part of his ability to make gains with verbal, mental, and musculoskeletal skills.
Your support helps Kyle move forward, be it with the great speed that Kyle loves to ride or in smaller increments. You plan an important role as you continue to support Kyle and all our Jacob’s Fund kids.
We’d love to hear your ideas on how we can work together to reach more people like you, who support children with disabilities through hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Just click the Comment button and give us your ideas.
The Red Thread’s mission experiences are about work. This weekend‘s Jacob’s Fund trip is no different; our muscles clearly tell us we’re doing that, and it’s satisfying. But our joy is meeting with the children we support and their families.
When Melissa and Russell arrive with Landon and Cameron, we pull off our work gloves and make a beeline for them.The twins are taller, their toddler faces changing to little boy features, but they are still virtually indistinguishable to us at first. We rely on the difference in their shirt patterns to help us for a few minutes, but soon we get their names right almost every time.
Besides, Landon is wearing BIG headphones. Disney tunes, maybe?
Melissa enlightens us. Landon’s started a new therapy: Therapeutic Listening. We’re unfamiliar with this therapeutic approach, so she and Landon’s therapist explain the therapy and what it can do for children with sensory integration difficulties.
Therapeutic Listening helps kids who have difficulty with sensory processing dysfunction, listening, attention, and communication.
Since the auditory system has connections to many parts of the brain, sound is a powerful way to access the nervous system and affect changes at all levels. The music in Therapeutic Listening albums gives the child unique and precisely controlled sensory information. The music is e3lectronically modified to highlight the parts of the sound spectrum that naturally trigger attention and activate body movement.
Landon listens to specifically recorded and enhanced music through his headphones both at McKenna Farms and at home. His music program was designed by his therapist for his unique needs. Therapeutic listening stimulates not only the auditory system but the entire brain. The main idea is to integrate the auditory and vestibular systems. Children using this listening program are often compelled to move and explore the environment in new ways because the benefits of Listening Therapy include improved:
. alertness, attention, and focus . receptive and expressive language, including articulation . balance and motor planning . affect and emotional responsivity . self-motivation . awareness of the environment . postural security . spatial awareness . initiation of play behavior . initiation of verbal interaction . stability
Landon does indeed listen to music, but it is music that has been custom designed and enhanced for him. The design is based on clues Landon gives his therapist. From there, she works out the program he needs. The headphones and CD player have special features.
And who knew that we listen not only with our ears, but with our whole body? Upon reflection, that makes perfect sense.
Just before Landon joins his therapist for more of this mind-bending therapy, Melissa offers us the headphones. We hear music, of course, and we recognize some of the pieces, but there are points of emphasis and enhancement. We return to our work amazed at the array of therapy tools and methods that the staff at McKenna Farms employs to help these children experience their lives and their world more fully.
We’re grateful to have a partner so dedicated. And we are grateful to our Global Giving donors who support our efforts to make these therapies available to more children.
It is always a joy to bring new people along on our trips as they offer us fresh perspectives on both our work and our partners. They take in everything for the first time, and their impressions are often poignant. Today we share those impressions with you, first from Laura, a supporter and horse-lover from Ohio. Then, we'll hear from our President, Kathy, as she shares the changes she's observed over the years.
Laura Ramsey :: I am a full-time in-home clinical social worker for children and families. I have had the privilege of working in many settings from hospice to foster care during my career. Never in my professional life have I seen anything quite like McKenna Farms; I was truly in awe as I took it all in. We arrived to a see white picket-fenced farm, the parking lot full of cars, the entire area buzzing with children and therapists. McKenna Farms has an ease and a feeling of home coupled with the murmur of evidence-based therapy and change. McKenna Farms seamlessly joins physical therapy, occupational therapy, therapeutic riding, and hippotherapy, all in one place. The staff, licensed professionals, talented horse handlers, and dedicated volunteers work together seamlessly to create an environment in which therapy is delivered to 350 kids per week.
At McKenna Farms, I see and hear passion everywhere. I see it in the faces of both clients and parents. I hear it in the voices of those who talk about their experience and those who are delivering therapy.
Jessie, founder and director, has dedicated her professional career to creating a unique farm that has managed to overcome the financial barriers that stand in the way of those who wish to join multi-disciplines together. Jessie’s passion spills over when she speaks of the future, which includes a pool where water therapy can be delivered on site. My visit to McKenna farms made me clearly understand why The Red Thread Promise has chosen to support the children there. The Farm is forward thinking and capitalizes on the talents of many to impact the lives of children at a crucial moment in time. McKenna Farms is truly a one-of-a-kind agency that I look forward to returning to in the future.
Kathy Korge Albergate :: Our September, 2014 visit to McKenna Farms was my first in three years and it’s obvious that I’d been away too long. Way too long. So much has happened in that time. Laura, a friend of The Red Thread Promise, and Sonya, Vice-President of The Red Thread Promise, joined me on this trip. Though Sonya has made the trip several times in those three years, and her last visit was less than four months ago, she was astounded to see the changes made over the summer. The outdoor riding arena has been rotated 90 degrees and moved closer to the fence bordering the pony corral. The remaining space where the area used to be has been readied for a future pool in which the children will take water therapy. The entrance to the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail is now a pleasantly curved trail. The stations have been revitalized and a new one completed. In some areas the woods have been cleared and the trail extended toward the creek on the property. Only passion for these kids and their ability to grow and become more independent could fuel the constant improvements Jessie and her team continue to make at McKenna Farms. And only her complete professionalism and eagerness to employ every therapy avenue that will help these children could bring those improvements to fruition. As a Jacob’s Fund partner, McKenna Farms embodies the spirit of The Red Thread Promise, enabling children to live the richest, fullest, most independent lives possible.
Have you visited a hippotherapy center? We’d love to hear your thoughts about hippotherapy and how farms like McKenna Farms and Hilltop Equestrian Center are working to enable children who are disabled. Email Glenna Fisher, Glenna@redthreadpromise.org
A football team, a bathroom and a shed – the makings of a busy mission experience!
Our job this weekend is to clear out brush that has grown along the fence between the corral and the trail, plant shrubs and flowers, replace two of the stations, paint and make repairs, and weed and mulch.
It’s a tall order, but we’re about to get some major reinforcement. Nearby Harrison High School has just delivered a busload of students who are pouring onto the parking lot, eager to start work. They are divided into work teams and quickly dispatched to locations around the barn, farmhouse, and the riding arenas.
Soon more than a dozen young men from the football team join us and begin removing small trees and brush from along the fence line and some larger trees that have fallen along the trail to the creek. The speed and efficiency with which they do this is astounding.
Now the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail is thrumming with activity. As the young men of Harrison High haul brush and trees away, two members of our team remove old whiteboard and chalkboard, making way for the new, weather-resistant Plexiglas boards. Two more are busily wielding cans of spray paint, applying a fresh coat of primary colors to the shape sorter and hanging tubes and even a bit to themselves. And still a surprising number of us are hunched over, attacking weeds with unusual vigor. Even Jacob’s baby sister and brother get into the act, helping position the posthole digger and planting flowers.
The sun climbs higher and it’s hot! We’ve been working for more than three hours. It’s time for the high school students to depart, and they quickly assemble and board the bus, then disappear around the bend in the road.
The trail is quieter now, with only the occasional metallic thud of the posthole digger, the regular buzz of carpenter bees and the thwacking and sucking sound of Jacob’s younger siblings’ shoes in the mud hole they’ve discovered. An old saying pops into our heads: many hands make light work. With the help of the high school students, we’ve accomplished much of our work on the trail.
After lunch, we’re ready for more chores. Sonya, The Red Thread Promise’s Vice-President, tackles painting one of the bathrooms. She’ll have to do this alone, since there’s no space for another person inside the bathroom once she gets the ladder up.
The rest of us head to the tool shed. This is more than a clearing out and reorganizing mission. You may recall that Jessie Moore, Director of McKenna Farms, lost Will, her husband and father of her two young sons, to a massive heart attack in December 2012.
Will and McKenna Farms were inextricably entwined. So much of the daily life of the farm depended on Will, and Will’s toolshed has remained pretty much untouched since his death.
We gently consult Jessie as to what should be done with each item. Sarah, Jacob’s mom, is known for her organizing skills, so once the piles are sorted, she directs us in reorganizing the shed.
We head back to the farmhouse for a cool drink of water, and to admire Sonya’s handiwork. The bland off-white has been replaced with a first coat in an inviting shade of green.
Sweat trickles down our backs and faces. We are dirty and red-faced and we smile, thinking of the children who will be back to ride the trail Monday morning, breathing in the scent of sage and rosemary, tossing frogs into squares and circles and stars, playing the chimes, and talking about the pink and purple and yellow blossoms.
They’ll notice the freshly painted bathroom – kids love color. And although they won’t peer into the toolshed, the new farm manager will, and his job will be a little easier.
In our mind’s eye we see the faces of those children, and our thoughts return to the conversations we’ve had with them and their families.
Exciting things are happening, and we’ll share those with you soon.
Do thoughts of the children you’re helping support bring a smile to your face? We hope so. You’re an important part of what we do, and thoughts of you, too, makes us smile.
Would you like to join us on our next trip to McKenna Farms in Dallas, GA, or visit our other partnering therapy center, Hilltop Equestrian Center in West Alexandria, Ohio? If so, please let us know. Email Glenna@redthreadpromise.org or call 513-423-0108.
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