By BETTY WEIBEL
April is Volunteer Appreciation month across the country, however many local organizations are working to build their dwindling volunteer corps. COVID left a dent in volunteer availability for many organizations including Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Bainbridge. Although they maintain a diverse volunteer team year-round, sometimes nearing 200 helpers, Fieldstone Farm is still seeing repercussions of COVID as they try to rebuild their core.
“Fieldstone Farm could not exist without our dedicated team of volunteers who give their time, hard work and hearts each week,” said Lynnette Stuart, CEO at Fieldstone Farm. “Although we have a very strong core group of volunteers who have extensive longevity with our program, we did lose some people due to a variety of reasons related to the pandemic. As a result, we continue to search for new volunteers with the dedication and passion for our mission to help our students achieve their goals. Horse experience is particularly helpful, but not always necessary as we do provide ongoing training opportunities. People who are interested need to be at least 14 years old and commit to a minimum of one hour of service per week on a consistent basis.”
There is no better way to understand the role of volunteers than meeting a few members of the Fieldstone Farm team:Katie Brooks (Chagrin Falls) is a 15-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral Latin high school student…Jane Temple (Moreland Hills) is a retired television producer, well-known for her leadership in WEWS’ popular “The Morning Exchange”…and Bill Hegarty (Chagrin Falls) works full-time as Chief Investment Officer at McDonald Partners.They are three very different people whose lives intersect in their commitment as volunteers at Fieldstone Farm.
Katie Brooks of Chagrin Falls, a 15-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral Latin student said, “My interests are anything with animals! I have two dogs, a cat and have been riding horses since I was three years old. Making time for Fieldstone is definitely a challenge with school as I do sports like tennis and participate in mock trial and have other commitments as well,” explained the enthusiastic teen. “I got involved with Fieldstone when I was almost 14 and I started because I wanted to participate in some type of regular service work. Fieldstone offered me the perfect opportunity to be of service to others and work with animals. It can be challenging managing schedules, but it is so worth it because I love it so much.”
Katie volunteers weekly in Valorie’s riding class, but if they need her to lead horses in Kim’s class, she is willing to jump in. “For me, I get a lot out of volunteering at Fieldstone, just as much as the students do. Fieldstone is a place where I can come after school to relax a little and have fun helping in class. I have learned so much from volunteering: patience when dealing with a challenging horse, time management skills to balance school and volunteering, and maturity in determining how I can best support the students and instructors I am working with. I have grown so much while at Fieldstone and plan to keep growing.”
Her advice to others? “Try it! It never hurts to try new things. I encourage people to visit and become volunteers because you get just as much out of it as the students do. And be prepared to learn and grow in ways you can’t anticipate when you start.”
Katie has been volunteering for about a year. In contrast, Jane Temple started volunteering in the early ’90s, before Fieldstone Farm had grown into a full-time facility in Bainbridge – they were still renting space at Salmor Stables in Newbury.
Jane Temple of Moreland Hills, a retired television producer said, “Volunteering was a small part of my life then, as I was raising a family and working. When I stopped working full time in 2012, I began volunteering several days a week – working as a leader, a side-walker and assisting in hippotherapy. In the last 10 years, I’ve added lead volunteering and carriage classes.” Her long-term commitment has also included serving on the Board of Trustees in roles including President and Chair.
“As a horse owner of 40 years, a lifelong rider and horse lover, Fieldstone Farm volunteering was a natural for me because it involved horses. But working with the students quickly became an equally strong motivator. It is so rewarding to see the progress students make with the horses, and the joy they feel from that student-horse connection. Horses have a special extra sense that gives them instant understanding and empathy with a student, and the students can feel that. Just being around them becomes therapy. Grooming, riding and working on a goal with a horse are all fulfilling activities for the students. As a volunteer I see that,” said Jane. “No matter what the class or who the student – I help others, I spend time with horses, I learn, and I benefit from horse therapy – it’s a win, win, win, win!”
Jane added her advice to all would-be volunteers:Do it. Sign up. Whether you have horse experience or not, working with the kids and other student groups is so rewarding. You’ll get therapy too, while helping someone else. It’s true what they say, “You always get more than you give.”
Bill Hegarty of Chagrin Falls, a Chief Investment Officer at McDonald Partners said, “As a busy portfolio manager for the investment management and brokerage firm, McDonald Partners, Bill Hegarty found himself continuing to work remotely since COVID. “That has freed up time for me to get back into volunteering. Living in Chagrin puts me just 20 minutes from Fieldstone Farm.”
Bill is a former equestrian and show jumping competitor who found himself missing horses after he stopped riding a few years ago. “I knew that Fieldstone Farm was not just about the horse, but the student and it’s been fun gradually getting to know the horses and more importantly, the students. I started volunteering in April last year, initially just Saturday mornings with instructor Jenna Upper, first side-walking and then leading. Beginning a few months ago I have been able to get over there on some weekdays and have worked with a few other instructors and new horse/student combinations. The instructors have been terrific to work with—I’ve met many other volunteers,too,who have been fun to work with, so dedicated and knowledgeable as well.”
“The volunteer role is a gradual learning process as each horse and rider combination is unique. I understand that “the Fieldstone way” ensures safety for both volunteers and students…the formalized step-by-step horse/student guidelines have produced wonderful results for Fieldstone and are recognized as a successful template for other therapeutic riding centers nationally,” he said.
Learning to Volunteer
The Volunteer training program at Fieldstone Farm is tailored to individuals and details on the website (FieldstoneFarm.org) explain that training is offered on a monthly basis to help new and current volunteers improve their horse skills and learn how to better support students. In addition to live sessions, informational videos promote learning and familiarity with the nearly 40 horses in the program including: how to sponge or flyspray a horse, handling a mouthy horse, the proper position for side-walking, mounting area procedures and more.
The value of Fieldstone Farm’s volunteer services has been estimated at nearly a half million dollars annually. Even Fieldstone’s annual fundraiser, Chefs Unbridled (to be held September 9 this year at the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club Polo Field in Gates Mills) couldn’t cover the costs of running the program if not for its volunteers. “Our volunteers are the backbone of our program and we are truly grateful for the time that they give to help our students and our program every single day,” said Lynnette.
Fieldstone Farm Equine Management Team volunteers focus their efforts on the care of the horses and keeping them happy to serve the students each week.
Volunteers recognized as backbone of Fieldstone Farm
By BETTY WEIBEL