October 19, 2011

Labors of love at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center — a CFD choice

News and Information

Editor’s note: The 2011 Combined Fund Drive campaign will run from Oct. 12 through Dec. 2. During that time, UW Today will write about various agencies among the 2,800 supported by the CFD, or UW employees who help or support these organizations.

Name, UW job: Melissa Maxwell, creative lead with Human Resources Marketing & Communications.

Volunteer activity: Every Saturday afternoon, I head to Little Bit in Woodinville for lots of smiles. I arrive about a half hour before my regular rider (Gillian, age 10), in order to groom and saddle her assigned horse. During the hourlong class, I serve as Gillians “side walker,” where my role is to walk beside her (while shes on the horse), to make sure shes safe and secure and to help her follow the teachers instructions. After the lesson, I untack (remove saddle/bridle) and, once again, groom her horse. If Gillian is able to stick around for a little while afterward, I help her feed carrots to all the horses in the barn. (She is crazy about feeding carrots to those horses!)

Melissa Maxwell with Gillian

Melissa Maxwell with Gillian, 10, who gets riding lessons at the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville. Maxwell serves as Gillian’s “side walker,” walking along to make sure the girl is safe and secure in the saddle. (Then they feed carrots to the horses together.)

Organization’s mission: Here is their official mission statement: “At Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, we provide equine-assisted activities and therapies to children and adults with disabilities. Our mission is to improve our clients’ bodies, minds and spirits through our programs, and to be an inspiration and educational resource to the therapeutic riding profession, both regionally and nationally.”

In a nutshell: through the use of horses, they help people feel good about themselves.

How long a volunteer for this agency: I went through many hours of training last December, and have been working with Gillian and her class since January.

Why these activities? I have always loved horses, and spent many hours in the saddle as a child. I met one of the Little Bit volunteer coordinators at last years CFD Charity Fair and thought this would be perfect: A way for me to be with horses while giving back a little something to the community.

So you could say that I signed up in order to be with horses. What I hadnt expected was to fall in love with the kids, too.

A memorable experience while volunteering: In addition to our regular weekly classes, Gillian and I have participated in a few Little Bit-related special events, including a fashion show this past August. She and I were fitted for “the latest” in equestrian wear, and, along with other Little Bit riders and volunteers, strutted the cat walk at a fundraiser held in conjunction with the annual Evergreen Classic (a huge regional hunter-jumper competition). The show helped raise awareness for Little Bit and was a tremendous self-esteem-builder for the kids.

Satisfaction in volunteering: In just a few short months, Ive watched Gillian become a more confident, independent rider. Have I had anything to do with that? Im not sure. But we have a lot of fun together and have become great pals. I cherish the time I get to spend with her.

Learn more about Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center at the agencys website.