The IEA has given a $10,000 lifeline to the Kemmerer Village Horses and Heroes program in Assumption, southeast of Springfield, to continue serving abused children.
The Horses for Heroes program is part of Kemmerer Village, whose mission is to help the Presbyterian Church minister to children and families who face stress and turmoil in their lives.
Amber Miller, a clinical social worker equine therapist at Kemmerer Village, received the IEA gift at the IEA Mid-Winter meeting in Springfield in January, and came away “amazed” by the Illinois Elks’ generosity.
“What really resonated with me all evening was the recitation of the full name, ‘the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.’ Throughout the banquet, it was so apparent that this name aptly reflects the values of the Elks. As a representative of Kemmerer Village Horses and Heroes, I truly felt cared for and protected by the Elks.”
Miller said the Horses and Heroes program lost its primary source of funding about two years ago; and it has taken the efforts of many people to keep the program going.
“To have one amazing organization provide for all of the needs of Horses and Heroes – and even some of the “wants” of Horses and Heroes – gave me such a feeling of security and warmth,” she said.
The $10,000 gift will provide full funding for the program, including paying for the care of the horses and the staff salaries as well as purchasing additional adaptive equipment for riders, Miller said.
The gift also means the program will be able to continue to offer scholarships for families in need and continue to offer very low rider fees for all families. The average therapeutic riding program charges about 10 times as much as Horses and Heroes does in rider fees in order to cover the expenses of this type of therapy.
“We are so thankful to the Elks for enabling us to serve our children and families,” Miller said.
She added that the elation from receiving the gift was a stark contrast to the burnout that can come from working with abused children, in which social workers can sometimes be left with feeling “how could (the abusers) do that?!”
“Having the tremendous blessing of the Elks reaching out to us provided me with the exact opposite type of “How could they do that?!” – wondering in joy at the generosity of the Elks rather than in despair at the abuse children suffer.”
By JAYLYN COOK
Decatur Herald and Review
ASSUMPTION — Along with the rest of the staff and residents at Kemmerer Village, Amber Miller has a lot to look forward to as fall approaches.
In September, the Presbyterian child care agency kicked off its “Horses for Heroes” program, which allows children with disabilities to participate in riding sessions on therapy horses. The program spans five weeks in the fall and another five weeks in the spring.
Kemmerer Village also welcomed an 8-year-old, black and white Gypsy Vanner named Oreo to its group of horses a month earlier.
“She’s going to be a very good therapy horse,” said Miller, the agency’s equine therapist and certified riding instructor.
She said that Gypsy Vanner horses such as Oreo are strong, calm and have broad backs.
“They’re just super mellow horses,” Miller said. “We have one boy that rides in our program whose entire body tremors,” Miller said. “Having a horse like Oreo is critical to his safety.”
Miller said Kemmerer Village won Oreo in a contest held by the LexLin Gyspy Ranch in Rockwood, TN.
The ranch agreed to donate Gypsy Vanner horses to the top 20 ranches and organizations that earned the most votes by the end of the contest. Kemmerer Village finished in seventh place with 15,442 votes, Miller said.
“We’re really building a specialized herd now,” she said.
Five horses are currently saddled and ready to ride for the Horses for Heroes program, and Miller said Oreo will join them in due time.
To assist with grooming the horses and attending to the children riding them for their safety, 12 of the 35 residents currently at Kemmerer Village are serving as “heroes” for the program.
The agency provides a wide range of services for the young people who stay at the facility and their families, including foster care, residential treatment and recreational therapy.
Autumn Warren, associate director of financial development, said creating a relationship with the horses not only provides a therapeutic outlet for the residents, but also helps them develop beneficial life skills.
“It’s a constant relationship-building thing,” she said. “It really is more like a human interaction. The more you see them, the more you have to work to build a relationship with the animals.”
The kick-off session in September mostly served as a fundraiser for donors who support the Horses for Heroes program. Miller said the program was to return a week later to its focus of providing therapy for disabled children.
Among those who rode at the September opening were Payton and Paxton Carter.
The brothers said until that evening, they had never ridden a horse previously. After they dismounted and removed their safety helmets, Payton, 8, and Paxton, 9, excitedly chattered about their experience with each other.
When asked if they’d ride again someday, both answered with a simultaneous “yes.”
“I’d probably ride again, if I got the chance,” Paxton said.
– Reprinted from the Sept. 14, 2017, Decatur Herald and Review