I’ve mentioned many times that I ALWAYS enjoy learning and sharing the stories of each individual, organization or business that I “SCOOP”. But once in a while, one really tugs at my heart and makes me smile for days. Like last week, when I was invited by Heather Straughter, founder of Jakes Help from Heaven, to come witness the magic of “hippotherapy” (equine-assisted physical therapy) at Progression in Motion. Where I quickly learned that I am not the only one who smiles for days after visiting the barn.
THE MANY WAYS THAT JAKE “HELPS” FROM HEAVEN
Since 2011, Jake’s Help from Heaven has been supporting families affected by life-long illnesses or disabilities. Their “help” comes in a variety of ways, including grants and financial assistance, the purchasing of medically necessary equipment, offsetting transportation and lodging expenses, and delivering life-enhancing goods and services directly to those in need. Check out this video I recently created, sharing the impact that JHFH has been having on our community for over a decade.
It was made crystal clear to me last week just how “life enhancing” those services can be. When I arrived at the barn, I was greeted by Bree Pisacane, owner of Progression in Motion. Bree didn’t even have to tell me that “she was in her happy place”. It was obvious from her warmth and gentle engagement she gives each child. Bree’s dream started when she began shadowing a PT from BOCES while still in highschool. She realized that she could combine her passion for horses and desire to help people through the hippotherapy technique. After much education and volunteer experiences, Bree started her program in 2012.
THE BENEFITS OF HIPPOTHERAPY
That day in the barn, I got the pleasure of meeting Laura, mother of three. Her two older boys have Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability, behavioral and learning challenges, and various physical characteristics. Luke (9) and Lincoln (6) have both been coming to physical therapy services incorporating hippotherapy for years, thanks to the assistance they receive from Jake’s Help from Heaven. As a result of the amazing work by both JHFH and Progression In Motion, she has seen HUGE improvements in their daily lives.
When Luke began, he had much difficulty crossing the midpoint of his body and running. By using the movements of the horse’s pelvis, he’s dramatically improved his balance. He’s learned to run. His communication improved as he began to realize that he could tell the big horse what to do. He learned to alternate his feet on the stairs. All these improvements help so much at both home and school.
When Lincoln began, he did not acknowledge attempts at communication. He now frequently makes eye contact, reaches for desired objects, leads people where he wants to go, and uses sign language very consistently to communicate his wants and needs.
The movement of the horse has helped so much with his balance and stability that he can now both run and walk on a balance beam, improving his ability to participate in physical activity with his peers and brothers. The smells and sounds of the barn have taken him out of his comfort zone, allowing him to accept new environments more readily, a common challenge for children on the autism spectrum.
Being a boy mom and understanding the challenges of a child with a spectrum disorder, I really enjoyed chatting with their mother Laura. And although she was only able to share quick sentences here and there while managing the two boys who were not in session, she made it clear how much she appreciates all that Jake’s Help from Heaven does for families like hers. Not only has she witnessed all of the physical and communicative gains the therapy has given her sons, but it has given her family the opportunity to get out of the home and participate in an activity in a warm and accepting environment. As you can imagine, this is incredibly difficult to do with two children with a disability (and another little one). Improving quality of lives for families of children with serious medical conditions is one of the many goals of Jake’s Help from Heaven.
It really made my week to be able to witness these two exceptional women in their happy place. Heather, being able to see the first-hand benefits that Jake’s Help from Heaven is bringing to families within our community. And Bree, using her education and love of horses to improve the quality of children’s lives. Bree shared that a dream of hers would be to partner with another organization with an indoor arena and expand her program to a year-round basis (since there is a very long waiting list). And Heather’s dream? That community members like you and I continue to support organizations like Jake’s Help from Heaven so that they can continue to improve the lives of children and families for many years to come.