Miles of Smiles more than therapy for clients

9/10/2013

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories featuring the 25 agencies that will be receiving money from the Finney County United Way in 2014.

By RACHAEL SEBASTIAN

Special to The Telegram

Not all students get to visit horses once a month for class.

But students in the Therapeutic Education Program at USD 457 are able to do so through a partnership with Miles of Smiles.

Miles of Smiles is a nonprofit organization in Garden City that offers children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities or injuries the therapeutic benefits of horseback riding.

The agency is one of 25 set to receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2014. Local fundraising efforts to raise money for the 2014 campaign recently began, with a goal of raising $560,000.

This year, Miles of Smiles will receive $8,000 that will go toward the Friends and Family Program — programs that are not part of the regular horsemanship lessons, which includes the TEP partnership.

TEP students are those who benefit from alternate classroom settings, with the goal being the students return to their classrooms.

Sara Brown, outgoing executive director of Miles of Smiles, wrote the grant for the funding.

Brown said visiting and working with horses is good for discipline, well-being and self-esteem.

"They learn social skills, problem solving, team-building and anger management. They learn how to read body language," she said.

Brown said they teach the students that horses aren't very different from humans.

"They pick on each other just like kids pick on each other," Brown said.

Through learning about horses and their behavior, students do better in school and with their peers, Brown said.

The money from United Way helps keep this program possible.

"It has increased the number of clients that we serve. Before, we were just limited to our riding lessons. Now, it's a whole different clientele. It's people who wouldn't have access to this otherwise. It makes a real impact in our community," she said.

Breanna Ozburn, a USD 457 TEP teacher for second through sixth grades, said the students benefit from visiting the horses.

"It's definitely been a positive. For some of them, it's the only time they're focused," she said.

Ozburn said she hopes to the see the program grow.

"It really has a potential to grow into a bigger program. The impact these lessons have are endless," she said.

Ozburn encourages those to donate their time by volunteering, or by contributing through United Way.

"There are a limited number of supplies and volunteers. And this program really has been awesome. Anything that can support this program is really needed. It's all run off of donations and public funds," she said.

Ozburn is thankful the students get this unique experience and get to reap the rewards of being around horses.

"It's an activity that otherwise we wouldn't have," she said.

To become a volunteer, or learn more about the program, attend a volunteer training at 2 p.m. Saturday at Miles of Smiles, 901 Maple St. Volunteers are needed for fall sessions and TEP sessions. For more information, call Brown at 271-4925.

The 25 partner agencies for the 2014 United Way campaign include:

Miles of Smiles; Real Men, Real Leaders; Russell Child Development Center; Santa Fe Trail Council — Boy Scouts of America; Seeds of Hope Jail Ministry; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association; Building Blocks Project through Russell Child Development Center; Spirit of the Plains — CASA, Inc.; St. Catherine Hospital — Lactation Program; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; The Salvation Army; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Garden City Recreation Commission — Playground Program; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; Catholic Social Service; Circles of Hope; Community Day Care Center, Inc.; Family Crisis Services, Inc.; Finney County Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Garden City Area Chapter of the American Red Cross; Garden City Family YMCA; Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland; Habitat for Humanity; Kansas Children's Service League; Meals on Wheels.

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