Thousands of people will donate their time and resources to the fifth annual Midland Gives event on Tuesday.
Last year, the event raised approximately $1.7 million for 337 participating nonprofits. One of those groups was Dream Riders in Lexington, which provides an opportunity for people with special needs to benefit from equine-assisted activities.
Jennifer Stoudemire, executive director and head instructor at Dream Riders, said the group raised $19,000 last year. Much of that money went toward the maintenance of the program and subsidizing lessons through scholarships.
According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, therapeutic riding helps improve the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of individuals with special needs. Riders with physical disabilities can improve flexibility, balance and strength, as horseback riding mimics the human gait.
At Dream Riders, Stoudemire said each horse is seen by a dentist, chiropractor and trimmer, while the facility also recently revamped its saddles and purchased new helmets for students.
Cordelia “Corky” Dyer is a volunteer assistant instructor and Stoudemire’s mother. Dyer oversees nearly 50 volunteers who serve as leaders and side walkers for students not yet ready to ride independently.
Dream Riders began in October 1998 when Stoudemire was just out of college, though Dyer and Stoudemire said horses have always been a part of their family.
“This type of organization was on my family’s mind for a long time,” Stoudemire said. “My mother worked as a volunteer for another group when I was younger. I can remember my 4-H Club helping with whatever the group needed.”
As a senior in college, Stoudemire learned about the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, which later became PATH International.
“I sent $10 for the start packet, and my father started reading books about the subject,” Stoudemire said. “From there, everything just fell into place.”
Stoudemire says riders enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill and building on it — sometimes with great success. Dream Riders has sent four riders to the International Special Olympics.
“The people here make it special,” said Nadene Coats, a mother of one of the riders. “Just getting a chance to do something that not everyone gets to do … My daughter is having fun but doesn’t realize the benefits she is getting.”
Coats said her daughter has become more comfortable not just around the horses but other animals as well, while her increased confidence has improved her speech.
Glenda Rogers, another parent, said her daughter battles anxiety, but having a chance to get out in nature and ride has helped her be calmer.
Stoudemire, who has a brother with special needs, said Dream Riders participants range from age four to 70.
“We recently had the grandfather of a rider thank us for the change in his grandson’s effort in school and social confidence,” Stoudemire said. “A lot of growing happened at Dream Riders. We treated him like a person and just talked about his thoughts and feelings with autism. We’ve seen him grow his horse skills, but also his confidence.”
Midlands Gives is a 24-hour online giving event, part of a statewide day of charitable donations. The event, which has raised more than $5.5 million since its inception in 2014, is hosted by Central Carolina Community Foundation.
Donations, which can be made at http://www.midlandsgives.org, benefit verified nonprofits in 11 Midlands counties. Gifts made through the website will be amplified through sponsor prize incentives.
There is a $20 giving minimum per organization, and gifts are tax deductible.
For more information, visit https://www.midlandsgives.org/about.