Learn about three of our dedicated volunteers who have been with Renew and served our students for well over a decade. Hear their stories in their own words.
My real love of horses started when I was 18. I bought a small appaloosa horse named Twister with a beautiful colorful blanket on him. After four years I sold him and bought a bigger white mare named Snoqualamie. I had her bred twice and raised two geldings. After 20 years and losing them both, God closed one door and then opened another. My next adventure lasted many years of leasing different horses every year from the Yankee Springs riding stables. When that stables closed its doors and left me horseless again.
God closed one door and then opened another.
It is then that I saw an article in the paper for a therapeutic riding program beginning. August 8, 2009 Phyllis De Haan and her daughter Jodi hosted a fundraiser at 1st Reform Church in Holland where Beth Poll brought her horse Scout and we were all informed about the program. I signed up for ATOHAH. On Sept 14 and 21 I had basic training and on October 12 I started with my first student and what would be a long and rewarding commitment to the program.
Now known as Renew TRC and under our Executive Director, Melissa Conner, the board members, and many volunteers, I am so proud to be a part of Renew. I hope my many years of horses can benefit and help teach others and pass on my knowledge.
The rewards are great. I’ve witnessed a student who touched and connected to a horse so silently that her tears began to flow, a very young student going from fear to smiles, and another who went from finally relaxing her legs to down on the horse’s side. Core strength, confidence, muscle strength, calmness, control…the list goes on and on of miracles through being connected to a horse.
I give my time and dedication to this special program that benefits so many students. Changes, improvements, and tons of smiles that benefit not only them, but it surely makes my day too.
Be a volunteer and make a difference in this world of Renew and the students.
Blessing to all,
How did you first learn about Renew? My daughter Home schools her kids. She toured Renew at some point and then suggested I might be interested. After some time, I took the class and volunteered.
How long have you been volunteering at Renew? May 22, 2017 was my first assigned week. Roughly 5 years.
What ways have you benefited from your time volunteering? I feel good in that I can help these students enjoy riding horses. I also enjoy being around horses again.
Have there been any benefits that have surprised you? I’ve improved my physical and mental health, enabling me to walk longer distances.
Is there a particular time or story from volunteering that really impacted you and that you would like to share? At Renew, one of our students is unable to communicate. He makes audible noises, he doesn’t seem to be complaining or asking for anything, just noises. I visited one of his training sessions at Benjamins Hope where the instructor read him a paragraph and showed him two 3×5 cards, asking him which card best fit the subject and he looked at the card that best fit the subject. That is when I finally realized that we are the ones who have to educate ourselves to be more able to communicate with them. Over the years I’ve seen this student’s behavior improve. I believe he feels better about his abilities and enjoys the classes more. We are all on various spectrums. We need to be more tolerant and understanding of others, no matter where they are on their spectrum.
If you could tell a potential volunteer one thing, what would it be? If you have any level of desire to help or experience working with these students and horses, give it a try. You don’t need to know anything except the ability and willingness to learn. Try just one session a week and see how much you can affect.
How did you first learn about Renew? I was looking for a place like this when I was about to retire. There was one near Holland, and it stopped right when I retired. It might have been family that told me about Renew. Jodi Geerlings welcomed me to Renew and taught me how to sidewalk, and eventually lead the horses. Boone was one of my first horses.
How long have you been volunteering at Renew? 2010 is when I started. In the Fall, after I retired from full time teaching.
What ways have you benefited from your time volunteering? I have learned a lot about the healing power of horses. The riders have also blessed me. Some of them come with so much energy, we work together on learning. Some of them are very shy and hold back. I am a teacher and like to talk. I try to relax them, and make them laugh. I really enjoy getting to know them. Many gain confidence both on and off the horse!
Have there been any benefits that have surprised you? The connections made at Renew are not always human. Yup – I know we have the cats now, but I am talking about the horses. I have heard of people with their own horses and having a connection, but at Renew I didn’t think this would happen. Years ago when I was a leader for Boone, he always seemed so special. The riders liked him and he always listened to me. One night he kept bumping me with his nose and I thought this was odd. I finally stopped and looked down and saw that his fetlock area was swollen. He was doing his job but trying to tell me he was hurting. I was so touched that he wanted me to know, but didn’t stop his job. Since then, at the next barn, Honey and Charlie seemed to connect with me. So it is COOL!
Is there a particular time or story from volunteering that really impacted you and that you would like to share? There are a few special moments, but one that really touched me is a rider that was very shy and would not talk – not to me or teachers. I heard humming, and I know this rider talked to parents. I worked on making her feel confident on the horse, and made her laugh and enjoy the time together. I wasn’t sure I was getting through until the rider’s mom told me something. She said her child wanted to participate in the parade we were going to be in with Renew, but only if Miss Deb was going to be there. I literally melted. It meant so much to know that the rider did care and wanted to be at Renew, and that we CAN make a difference.
If you could tell a potential volunteer one thing, what would it be? I would tell a volunteer to never give up hope that they are getting through to the kids. Every time you take the time to be at Renew, you are making a difference, no matter what task you perform.