NORWAY, Mich. (WZMQ) – The Proud Equestrian Program is currently facing a shortage of volunteers, community support, funding, and supplies. However, despite these challenges, community members are praising the program for the positive impact it has had on the lives of participants.
Volunteers, who dedicate their time and efforts to the program, find great fulfillment in their involvement. Alyssa dela Cruz, a current volunteer, expressed her joy in being part of the Proud Equestrian Program. She shared, “So sometimes the horses will have them trot, the kids just giggling on top of the horse while they’re trotting, it makes me really happy.”
One particular success story comes from Calvin, a young man with Fragile X Syndrome, a condition that affects cognitive functioning. Calvin’s mother shared how the Proud Equestrian Program has left a lifelong impact on her son. Even though Calvin turned 26, the age limit for riding in the program, he continues to return as a supporter, making it a tradition for the past five years. He keeps a photo album of his times with the program, and continues to make memories that he re-lives through his photo album all year long. The program’s occupational therapist’s Christmas card has made an honorary place in Calvin’s home for three years running.
“When he turned 26, that was the last year he was allowed to ride. He has loved it so much that we continue to come back every year just to visit. For him, this is the biggest thing for him,” said Teresa DePas, Calvin’s mom.
Another mother, whose daughter is currently a rider in the program, emphasized the immense value of the occupational therapy provided. She highlighted that the benefits extend beyond physical exercise, stating that it is a tremendous gift for her daughter.
The Proud Equestrian Program, despite its current challenges, remains dedicated to serving the community and improving the lives of its participants. As they seek more volunteers, support, funding, and supplies, the program continues to make a lasting impact, bringing joy and therapeutic benefits to those involved.
As the Proud Equestrian Program continues to touch the lives of its riders and families, the positive effects are evident. Pam Dallapiazza, a mother of a proud equestrian, emphasized how the program pushes her daughter, McKenna, out of her comfort zone, boosting her self-confidence. The program not only provides therapeutic benefits but also fosters social connections and friendships.
“Some of this stuff is pushing McKenna out of her comfort zone a little bit. So it helps her self-confidence. She has friends here, so it’s social also. But there are so many, so many good things that the kids get. It helps all of them,” Dallapiazza shared.
Riders eagerly anticipate the Proud Equestrian Program throughout the year, and some parents express their desire for the program to extend beyond its current one-week duration.
“I wish these kids were able to do this more often,” expressed Dallapiazza, reflecting the sentiments of other parents.
Currently, riders enjoy a one-hour time slot for five consecutive days during the month of August. However, parents hope that the program can expand its offerings to provide more opportunities for their children.
“I’m so thankful for that, but if they had more, could you imagine what it would do?” added Dallapiazza.
Recognizing the need for additional resources and support, the program’s occupational therapist, who has been leading the initiative for 35 years, believes that the Proud Equestrian Program can offer even more to its riders. Those interested in contributing to the program’s growth and development are encouraged to contact the Dickinson County 4 H coordinator at the MSU Extension Office located at Bay College West.
As the community rallies behind the Proud Equestrian Program, the hope for expansion and increased opportunities for riders continues to grow, ensuring that more individuals can benefit from the transformative power of this remarkable initiative. The program thanks the continuing and unwavering support of the United Way over the years for making the program possible.