January 2024 Update

We’re already a month into the new year and what a year it has been so far! Record snowfall, sustained frigid temperatures, and an uncharacteristic thaw with lots of precipitation have made farm life a little challenging…but only serve to remind us how tremendously blessed we are by our family of dedicated volunteers and people willing to pitch in wherever needed. Thank you!

Session 1 of therapeutic riding lessons is in full swing, giving record numbers of students the opportunity to experience the life-changing and life-giving benefits of equine assisted services. Renew also welcomes Standing Watch participants to the farm each week, offering hope, healing, and renewal to people who have sacrificed so much for all of us. Continuing in 2024, anyone and everyone is invited to the farm for monthly Hug A Horse events. These events provide the chance for people to let go of their burden for a few minutes and experience the mental health benefits that come from interacting with the horses. Mindfulness with Renew Horses is a new event that will follow the Hug A Horse experiences. There is a small fee for this unmounted learning experience. For details, reach out to Melissa Conner at melissa.conner@renewtrc.org. Another wonderful learning experience is the free, monthly Lunch N Learn events. All are welcome and invited to gather in the farmhouse for an informal time of learning and conversation surrounding a topic in the areas of equine assisted services, equine health and behavior, and so much more. Make sure to check our Facebook page, Program link above, and website calendar for the most up to date information about all of these wonderful opportunities.

There is a lot going on at Renew and we can’t wait to see what God will do in 2024!

From first words spoken to a decrease in anxiety, from deep friendships formed to learning to trust again – there’s never a shortage of reasons to celebrate at Renew. Each year, each day provide cause to stop and give thanks, but this year is a little something special. This year Renew is celebrating 15 years of having the privilege of serving the West Michigan community. What a joy and honor it is to serve you, and to serve alongside you. We hope to incorporate this celebration into our programs, events, and every chance we get throughout this year. The Renew family is special because of you – the ways you give, the ways you serve, the ways you demonstrate Christ-like community, the ways you persevere, the ways you show compassion – and there is much to celebrate!

Save the Date

Denim & Diamonds at the Derby

Thursday, April 25 at Baker Lofts

This tremendously fun evening of fellowship, celebration, and fundraising is approaching quickly. The money raised from Denim & Diamonds at the Derby makes it possible for people in our community to access the equine assisted programs they desperately need, and you can be a part of that! Whether you attend the event in person, or take part online, there are many ways to partner in the mission and have a lot of fun in the process.

Tickets for this event will go on sale at the end of February. Make sure to check the event page for details on the start of the jockey race and when the Bid to Win packages will be made available.

There are a few sponsorship opportunities still available for this event. If you would like more information, make sure to click here or you can always reach out to Cassie Pelon at communications@renewtrc.org.

Funds raised go directly to impacting people through programs offered at Renew

Denim & Diamonds at the Derby

Staff Spotlight: Melissa Conner

Some of the staff members at Renew you may have known for years, and others you might only know by name. To help you get to know the staff a bit better, each month we will be featuring a staff member in our Staff Spotlight. This month’s spotlight is our Executive Director, Melissa Conner.

I grew up in Virginia, always a horse lover and a swimmer. Competing in the local and state hunter/jumper circuit as a girl with my Welsh pony, Patience, and then adding swimming as an additional competitive sport, I was quite active growing up. I attended the University of Richmond and graduated with a major in Political Science and a minor in English in 1991 and married Ben that September.

We were deeply involved in our church and in Young Life, spending a total of 17 years on ministry staff working with young people. I also worked for seven years as a Legislative Aide for Delegate Bill Howell in Virginia, and enjoyed the process of running a local office and being part of how a bill becomes a state law.

In 2005, I remember falling in love with equine assisted services and made the decision to get my first certification with PATH Intl., what was then known as becoming a Registered Instructor. Seeing the incredible changes that are possible by bringing together horses and people with disabilities lit a passion in me at that time and I knew that I had found my lifelong work to bring this to as many people as possible. I also had the opportunity to develop professionally at Dream Catchers in our hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, leading their growth spurt from a small start up center to a major recognized and accredited center on the east coast. During this time, I was able to acquire additional certifications and experiences in the EAS industry by becoming a certified Advanced Instructor, and Equine Specialist for Metal Health and Learning, a Site Visitor, serving as a State Chair, a trained mentor, and eventually joined the faculty of PATH Intl. as an Evaluator for Instructor Certification. Through this experience, I
was able to join the Riding Certification Subcommittee of PATH Intl, chairing the Subcommittee for two years and helping to prepare the industry for the switch to third-party credentialing which just became official this past June 2023 with the accreditation of the CTRI (Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor) designation.

I moved to Holland, Michigan, in 2013 when my husband, Ben Conner, joined the faculty at Western Theological Seminary where he is a Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Center for Ministry and Disability. I immediately connected with the Board at Renew, which at that time was utilizing the facility at Rusty Spurs on 60th Street (located very close to my new home.) My four children, Tommy, Tori, Taylor, and Tessa, all now adults, made the move with us along with our two horses who had extensive experience as therapy horses, plus two cats and our beloved husky, Cody.

This move allowed me to fulfill a lifelong hope of living on a small farm with my horses at home. Sadly, two months after our move, we had to say goodbye to T, our wonderful American Warmblood bay horse as he suffered from a severe episode of colic. Nobie, who still works at Renew today, was our only horse for a couple of months until we added Swing to the family herd in February of 2014. Silk, who is also a part of the Renew herd, joined us after retiring from Dream Catchers in 2015, and she continues to hold a special place in my heart.

In a very real way, I am living my dream at Renew by making it possible for as many people in our community as possible to experience the life changing benefits of therapeutic services with horses.

— Melissa Conner

The Board at Renew asked me during the Fall 2013 to provide a proposal for how I saw myself engaging with the center and what I thought the future could be for the program. As a result of my proposal, they agreed to name me as the first Executive Director to lead the organization and set the growth plan. It is humbling to look back at this document now, over 10 years later, and realize all that has been accomplished through the collaborative efforts that have taken place over the years through partnering with incredible, hard-working volunteers, hiring dedicated and talented staff, and being supported by generous donors and horse owners. Together, by God’s grace, what a difference we have made in this area!

I still find great joy in riding and teaching, although my days at Renew look different now than they did ten years ago. I very much enjoy continuing to learn new things and lead this amazing team of staff that God has brought to Renew. In a very real way, I am living my dream at Renew by making it possible for as many people in our community as possible to experience the life changing benefits of therapeutic services with horses. I am excited for opportunities to partner with Ben in his work with disability and theology I can’t imagine doing anything else.

When not at Renew, I enjoy being a part of the Michigan Lakeshore Aquatics Masters Swim Team, practicing several times a week and even competing in meets. I love that my daughter, Taylor, does this year round with me as well. Last summer, in August 2023, I was part of a relay with my three daughters to swim around Mackinac Island – something we have decided to do again this year. I also enjoy going to the gym with my husband and supporting him in his quest to compete as a professional in physique bodybuilding. I also enjoy hiking the many beautiful trails in our area with Ben and our husky, Tawny, reading on the beach, being with family, and getting away to tropical ocean waters to snorkel with the sea turtles at often as possible.

I love meeting new people who become a part of the Renew family and very much look forward to the great things that lie ahead for us all in the years to come. If you are a part of Renew and I have not met you yet, I hope to very soon!

Women Who Care of Holland selected Renew as the recipient of their final gift in 2023. Funds totaling $18,500 were received and will support expansion of speech therapy services and the implementation of Standing Watch for veterans and first responders. The checks were delivered on December 26, 2023 and were happily received with the help of Babe and Silk, therapy horses at Renew. We are so grateful for the support which will enable Renew to continue to offer quality, accredited equine assisted services in our area to promote positive life change for those living with challenges.

follow us on instagram

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *