Give Equine Therapy to Children with Disabilities

 
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Jan 22, 2013

The Twins are Blossoming

Cameron on Sassy with Rachel, Therapist
Cameron on Sassy with Rachel, Therapist

 “Cameron has blossomed!  He talks a mile a minute now! And Landon loves to ride now – he just takes off!”  Those were the words Cameron and Landon’s mom couldn’t wait to tell us, sharing  what the boys had accomplished since we last spoke.

Cameron greets and says goodbye to his teachers and knows the name of his classmates.  He’s also able to hold eye contact while talking, something children with autism often struggle to do.

“Their progress has been truly astounding.  They are so much more verbal now.  Both boys greet me with ‘Hi, Miss Lysi.’”

“Socially, Landon needs to get up to speed, but he’ll get there," Landon's mom told us. "He now knows the alphabet as well as all his colors.  And he says his prayers every night, after Mom or Dad get him started."

The boys’ grandmother, who sometimes brings them to hippotherapy sessions, has seen so much progress that she now has much loftier goals for them. She dreams that they will accomplish things no one could have expected earlier in their lives.

“They’ve transitioned beautifully.  They’ve come a long way,” Rachel, the boys’ physical therapist beamed.  “Now they talk about riding Sassy (their hippotherapy horse) when they are at home, and they look forward to coming to the farm each week.”

Note:  For Jacob’s Fund founder, Glenna Fisher, this news resonates deeply.  Her grandson, Jacob Noah Beachy, for whom Jacob’s Fund is named, talked to family, friends, and strangers about riding his horse, Major, at the farm.  Atop this gentle horse Jacob also learned colors and numbers.

The Global Giving Community and other donors' gifts have helped make it possible for us to provide 12 months of uninterrupted  hippotherapy for Cameron and Landon. You've brought two little boys who were once isolated from others happily into birthday parties, social interactions, with other kids and life itself. You’ve put the lilt back in their mother’s voice and have renewed their grandmother’s hopes. For this we thank you.

Cameron and Landon still have miles to go on their yearlong journey and beyond. We hope you’ll continue to give them your support by making a donation to this life-changing project.

Oct 15, 2012

Challenges of young adults with autism

Tony and one of his favorite rides, Pumpkin
Tony and one of his favorite rides, Pumpkin

In September, our team visited Dallas, Georgia to follow up with the kids we support, hear about their journeys, celebrate their successes and offer additional support. One of those kids is Tony, a Jacob’s Fund scholarship recipient. Diagnosed with autism at an early age, Tony’s journey has been a hard one and life continues to throw challenges in his path.

As you may remember from a previous report, Tony’s mother was given a diagnosis of inoperable esophageal cancer when he was only 15, an already turbulent time in a young person's life. His family’s resources and energy centered on his mother's health and care, leaving Tony without a stable home life. Unable to continue his therapy sessions, Tony began to withdraw and, unfortunately, his attitude and behavior began slipping. 

That’s when Jacob’s Fund stepped in to provide continuous weekly therapeutic riding. With a lot of hard work, Tony went on to qualify for the 2011 Equestrian Special Olympics where his mother was able to watch him compete and capture medals only weeks before her death.

Shortly thereafter, Tony’s world turned upside down. Since his mother’s passing, he has become homebound, spending most of his time on the computer or just listening to music. His family is often absent and opportunities for outings are practically nonexistent as are social interactions. Thankfully, a weekend caregiver drives him to the Farm once a week for his one-hour sessions, the only consistent thing in his life. 

Tony recently completed a work adjustment program offered by the state of Georgia and successfully worked at Goodwill, TJ Maxx and other short-term jobs, with transportation provided by the state. Back at home, and without transportation, Tony is unable to hold a job, something he desperately wants and needs. He is currently on a waiting list for life-skills classes as well as for placement in a group home. 

While his body grows thinner and thinner, his hope and optimism is heartbreakingly beautiful. Tony may never be able to live independently, but his urge to take charge of as much of his life as he possibly can inspires us to find ways to help him live his life in the fullest possible way. We hope you will join us in supporting Tony as a young adult, providing continuous therapy.

During a therapeutic riding session
During a therapeutic riding session

Links:

Jul 30, 2012

Great Opportunities Come in Pairs and Threes

Brandon working with horses as volunteer
Brandon working with horses as volunteer

We’re thrilled to announce that Jacob’s Fund has begun supporting three new children at McKenna Farms. This is an outstanding opportunity and challenge for our small organization. We’d like you to meet each one—Brandon, Cameron and Landon—to better understand why your help is so critical in their young lives.

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Brandon, 17, found his forever family just two years ago. Dan and Tracey had started fostering children and were asked to take Brandon, then 15, for a single weekend. This polite and gentle boy impressed the family, including the couple’s two biological sons, who later signed up to be Brandon’s Secret Santa. The thank-you note they received was gracious, but ended with Brandon’s heart-breaking wish: “what I really want is a family.” 

Within a few weeks, Brandon became eligible for adoption and their younger son said, “Well, let’s go get him.” The family proceeded with the adoption to make what they already felt legal and binding by law: Brandon would become their third son.

Early in life, Brandon had been diagnosed with speech problems following which he received help with speech at school. Although the help faded away, Brandon’s needs didn’t.

Once adopted, his new family began searching for help for him. Thankfully, the Paulding County Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) suggested McKenna Farms. Brandon began speech therapy in the summer of 2011, working in one of the therapy rooms at McKenna Farms’ Civil-War era farmhouse.

Early in the summer of 2012, farm management asked Brandon if he’d like to volunteer on the farm. Working in the barn with the horses was a pivotal turning point for this young man. Now his speech therapist comes to the barn for therapy sessions where Brandon is happiest and does his best. He has been so successful as a volunteer that other children ask for him to be the helper during their therapy sessions.

Brandon is proud of his progress as well as his volunteerism and rightfully so. He has learned that he can contribute something valuable to the farm and other patients. He helps others without asking anything in return and relishes in his new-found confidence.

With your help, Brandon will begin therapeutic riding sessions immediately.  Brandon is glad to help others at the farm. Now Jacob’s Fund can let him know that others want to help him, too.

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Cameron and Landon, age three, are identical twins. When they were 18 months old, their mom, Melissa, noticed that Landon began to exhibit some unusual behavior. Following checkups, enduring multiple lengthy waiting lists for appointments (up to six months!), denials from their insurance company, waiting another agonizing six months for an appointment—all the while saving money to pay for the consultation—Landon was finally able to see a specialist. Two days before Christmas, the family received the diagnosis: Landon was autistic. A few months later, Cameron was diagnosed with the same disorder.

The following summer, the family attended a barbecue. While speaking to a friend, Melissa heard about McKenna Farms and proceeded to contact the farm director in search of therapy solutions for her sons. Thankfully, McKenna Farms is able to provide the occupational and speech services her young sons need.

Before beginning therapy, Landon had a vocabulary of five words. After only five months of work with McKenna Farms’ therapists, he now proudly owns over 100 words! The boys have now progressed from the therapy rooms to hippotherapy on the backs of the farm’s gentle horses. Cameron loves his sessions on Sassy, a beautiful quarter horse, and, as of this report, Landon is looking forward to his second session.

The twins are making great strides. They can better communicate with their family and will be more prepared to tackle pre-school in the coming months. Doctors and therapists concur that both boys need to spend a total of 40 hours a week with therapy or involvement with other children in a normal setting so being prepared for pre-school is a must for these little guys.

Melissa is thrilled that the boys are achieving their short-term goals with the help of the specialists at McKenna Farms and the financial support of Jacob’s Fund. Her long-term goal is for each boy to gain the necessary life skills to live independently as an adult. In order to do so, the boys require therapy three times a week. While the family’s health insurance covers 80 per cent of the cost of occupational therapy, it does not cover speech therapy, as autism is not covered at all on their policy. The cost of these sessions for a single-wage-earner home is staggering. While McKenna Farms is a non-profit facility, the cost for maintaining regular, consistent therapy is significant.  

We have an outstanding opportunity to help these children. Jacob’s Fund and The Red Thread Promise are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their lives. With the help of Global Giving donors we will be able to meet their needs.  We thank you for your contribution to change lives like these.

Cameeron with Sassy
Cameeron with Sassy
Apr 23, 2012

Sarah's Year

McKenna Farms
McKenna Farms

Sarah's discovered something this year, and it's turned her life around:  hippotherapy.  For the first time since her diagnosis of autism nearly four years ago, Sarah can learn. 

But she won't be able to continue on this bright new path without your help. The Red Thread Promise needs to fund Sarah's hippotherapy for a full year, and we can only do that with your support.

Sarah was born in 2004, the first child in a family that grew in numbers and love.  She was later joined by Jordan, who is six, and Zion, now three.  In 2011, the family adopted Madison, a special-needs child who turns two in March, 2012.

Sarah thrived for the first year and two months of her life. But at fourteen months, Sarah suddenly stopped vocalizing.  “She totally regressed,” Said her mother. 

Watching her daughter change from a babbling toddler to an uncommunicative, withdrawn child was painful.  It was also baffling.

When Sarah was diagnosed with autism, shock and grief mingled with hope that knowing what caused Sarah’s withdrawal into a silent world might offer hope for their little girl.

In 2009, Sarah began traditional therapy in a clinical setting at McKenna Farms.  This is the approach most often used for children with disabilities.  Many children thrive in these circumstances, especially in a place like McKenna Farms, whose therapy rooms are in the old farmhouse, a true home, rather than a sterile environment.

But those methods didn’t work for Sarah.  For three years speech, physical, and occupational therapists worked with her.  “Nothing was accomplished,” her mother says.  “She couldn’t sit still, she couldn’t attend, and she couldn’t concentrate.  There was zero learning taking place.”

Then, with support from Jacob’s Fund, Sarah began hippotherapy. 

Sarah’s world is different now.  Her mom told us “On her horse, Sky, she listens and pays attention. She’s able to learn for the first time.  She is aware that in order to get what she wants from Sky she needs to communicate.  She has to say ‘Go fast, Sky.’

“Hippotherapy has made it possible for her to learn.  It’s help that is effective.  Now we know she can learn.”  As Diana repeats this, her sense of awe and relief is almost palpable.

We share that feeling.  Helping Sarah achieve milestones and more fully participate in her family’s life is what Jacob’s Fund is about. 

Our goal is to provide support for Sarah’s hippotherapy for a full year, at a cost of $10,000.  With your help, we’ll reach our goal and watch Sarah grow and thrive with the help of this amazing therapy

Jan 23, 2012

Wow! What a Difference!

Our Team at McKenna Farms in November, 2011
Our Team at McKenna Farms in November, 2011

What a difference two days can make! 

That’s what we hoped we’d be saying when we completed our working weekend at McKenna Farms in November 2011. Favored by perfect fall weather, our team tackled the late summer weeds, mowed, stained wood, restored a bridge to its rightful purpose and place on the sensory trail, and replaced worn parts along the way.    

By late Sunday morning as we put tools away and began packing, we were indeed marveling at what a difference two days can make.  We’d completed our list of chores and scoped out our next project – building an enclosed viewing room so parents could watch their children’s progress during therapy without being a distraction to their child’s session. 

However, it wasn’t our efforts that we praised. The “Wow!” came from our amazement and sheer joy of of watching the kids who came for therapy during our visit. Being given the opportunity to observe first-hand the miracle of hippotherapy and therapeutic riding, we began to understand the value of this therapy at a much deeper level.

Giselle

We had seen Giselle, one of McKenna Farms therapeutic riders, emerge from her mom’s car on Saturday morning.  She held onto the hood for balance and then took her mother’s hand so as not to fall.  Her head wobbled as she held her mother’s arm during their slow walk to the barn where she disappeared inside. 

Momentarily, Giselle appeared again, this time on horseback.  The transformation in this pre-teen was stunning!  This once wobbling girl carried herself with grace and near perfect form on top of the horse. Her newfound balance nearly took our breath away.  For the better part of an hour, she perched atop Major, one of the therapy horses, while he cantered and navigated hurdles repeatedly at her command.

“At school, Giselle is the girl who has trouble walking,” Jessie, McKenna Farms’ Director, explained.  “But here she does something that no one else in her fifth-grade class can do.”

Our collective “Wow!” then morphed into an aha moment.  When, like Giselle, you’re the one who’s never been the best at many of the things we often take for granted—like walking, jogging or skipping—moving with sweet freedom in this beautiful and graceful way on a horse is like taking flight. Not only did her physical body work hard but her confidence soared.

Sarah

Later that afternoon, another therapeutic rider named Sarah arrived for her session.  In 2010, Sarah rode in the Special Equestrian Olympics for the first time.  As she watched the parade of police officers carrying the Olympic torch, Sarah dreamed of riding in that parade.  In August, 2011, her dream became reality.

Sarah almost missed her chance for that glory when she fell off her horse before the parade.  Well-meaning bystanders rushed to her, sure she’d be too frightened to continue.  But not Sarah. “Put me back on that horse!” she said.  “I fall off all the time.  It’s nothing.”

Yet another “Wow!” moment.  Sarah’s determination and perseverance was refreshing. 

On the Other Side of the White Fence More Children like Giselle & Sarah

Following our work and observation of Giselle and Sarah, Jessie told us about the children with great need who are not coming to McKenna Farms.  She talks with their families every day:  the ones who don’t qualify for Medicaid or other forms of assistance; families who are above the poverty line, but all of their resources are exhausted with basics such as food, housing, and transportation.  These kids need hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Their doctors have prescribed it, just as Giselle’s and Sarah’s did.  Their world, too, can be changed from one of helplessness and frustration to one of achievement and the joyous elation of dreams come true.

Our goal, with the continuing help of our Global Giving community, is to hand the reins to these kids, as well, by offering scholarships to children in need. Thank you for your ongoing support of these exceptional kids.

Staining one of the Sensory Stations
Staining one of the Sensory Stations
Sarah & Friends at the End of Her Therapy Session
Sarah & Friends at the End of Her Therapy Session
One of the Therapy Horses
One of the Therapy Horses

Links:

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Organization

Project Leader

Kathy Korge Albergate

Havertown, PA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Give Equine Therapy to Children with Disabilities