When kids leave after a session at Juan Diez Rancheros, where they work with horses as a form of emotional therapy, Executive Director Michele Allison wants them to feel one thing—valuable. "They are valuable," she said. "The world may make them feel like they aren't, but I see their value."
Allison, who left a job in marketing seven years ago to start the nonprofit organization, said equine therapy has changed the lives of many adolescents and youth acting out inappropriately in their lives while dealing with emotional distress, sexual abuse or traumatic events. "I'm taking on the worst cases," she said. "They have their walls up."
One of the most valuable aspects of the ranch is that the services are provided to patients at no cost. "I'm only supported by donations from the public—we don't receive any government funding," she said.
Support from the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend has helped her maintain the program. The organization has received grants from the Roy E. Murray Foundation Fund for the last four years to help purchase hay for the horses. This year, they received a Q2030 Grant to purchase a new lawnmower. Because she doesn't own the land in Davenport where the ranch is, Allison said that it's oftentimes challenging to find grants that fit her needs. "My cost is administrative, feeding horses and buying hay," she said. "I can't develop the land, which is what a lot of grants are for."
More so, she said, it takes time to find funding. "I'm so focused on horses and kids, there's not a lot of time to do fundraising, research and writing grant applications," she said. "It's been a miracle to go through the foundation and go to the website and fill out the application."
It's helped her do what she does best, she said, which is help horses help kids. Her program is used after traditional therapy isn't working or isn't enough. The kids, ages 6 and up, will come to the sessions with their counselor. Kids are allowed to pick one of 11 horses they feel connected to and would like to work with. During the sessions, the horses' behavior is influenced by the thoughts, intentions and beliefs of the child or teenager and will mirror their behavior.
"I can talk about feelings, situations, people, working on boundaries," she said. "We'll go through obstacle courses and they'll have successes and failures, and in the moment we can discuss it."
The session is relationship development, she said. "The horse is showing them a picture of themselves and how they can make correction in their lives," she said.
It's encouraging to have the support of the Community Foundation behind her, she said, because helping children heal is one of the best ways to invest in the future of the community. "I really am thankful," she said. "They are the only source I have to ask for funding. It's vital for people in our community to know that these kids will grow up to be adults, either in a healthy or an unhealthy fashion."
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