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Partnering to Improve the Lives of Children with Disabilities and Communication Disorders

Children with communication disorders and other disabilities are often misunderstood by others who come in contact with them. For many children, these misunderstandings can result in undesirable encounters with law enforcement officers, some even resulting in arrest and imprisonment. Very little training is provided for law enforcement officers in how to appropriately communicate with individuals who have communication disorders and/or disabilities. Those who have communication disorders or disabilities often struggle with responding appropriately in stressful situations, understanding and following directions, and complying with direct orders. Children with these kinds of disabilities are not regularly exposed to law enforcement officers and taught how to respond correctly. Minimal training for officers, as well as limited interactions between the two groups, can create a perfect storm of confusion, distrust, and misunderstanding.

What is being done about this issue? I’m glad you asked! The Red Barn has partnered with the JAYC Foundation on an initiative to close the gap between children with disabilities and law enforcement officers. The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation has awarded a grant that will provide the resources to create an educational video for officers, as well as a social story for children. The instructional video will be made available online. The social story will also be available to download, which will explain to children what they should do if approached by a police officer. Additional resources for parents will be provided free of charge on the JAYC website.

Filming the video at The Red Barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone involved in this project hopes that schools (many of which now have a full-time police presence) and police precincts will incorporate these free resources to better prepare for interactions between these two wonderful groups of people.

The Red Barn and other similar agencies around the country will extend opportunities to local law enforcement agencies to have opportunities to interact with horses. What do horses have to do with this? Well, horses cannot speak and tell you what they are thinking. They use non-verbal indicators to communicate with others. While most of their communication is very different from humans, there are similarities. Teaching adults how to read the body language of horses and how to approach them safely helps prepare them for working with individuals with communication disorders.

Our very own founder, Joy O’Neal, has been working diligently on this project with Jaycee Dugard, Rebecca Bailey, Laura Vogtle, Jan Rowe, and Shelley Jones, as well as numerous parents of children with communication disorders. We want to thank all of these organizations and individuals for continually working toward the goal of making our world a more inclusive and understanding place!

Lights, camera, action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are so excited about this amazing opportunity to further serve children with disabilities, improving their lives, and teaching others how to communicate effectively with them. The potential exists for amazing progress to be made in this area, so please pray with us for the success of this program!

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Our Invaluable Summer Interns

Amazing Interns

The Red Barn could not operate with just our staff alone. As hard as we work, it is physically impossible for our small staff to serve 100 kids a week all while caring for 16 horses, 4 goats, 3 bunnies, 2 cats, and a 31-acre property that needs constant upkeep and repair. Thankfully, the barn is blessed with help from an amazing group of volunteers! And every summer, a number of high school volunteers pursue an internship at the Red Barn. This year we had six such interns: Abi, Alyssa, Cianan, Emily, Olivia, and Taylor.

Our summer interns help with everything! From side-walking and horse-handling in group riding lessons, to assisting in unmounted camps, and helping complete the daily and weekly tasks necessary to the barn’s operation. Their help is invaluable, especially when factoring in the grueling summertime heat and humidity. It’s not easy mucking stalls when you are sweat-soaked and exhausted after an 8-hour day, but our interns never once complained.

They also fill important roles as peer helpers to our students. Teenage interns and volunteers help bridge the age gap between our instructors and students, enabling younger students to feel more comfortable and willing to engage. Every child and young teen needs someone close to their age that they can both relate to and look up to. I can’t think of better peer role models than our six summer interns.

We cannot thank our interns enough for their hard work and sincerely hope our symbiotic relationship provided them with plenty of valuable knowledge and experience. Working with the population we serve can provide insight for any young person interested in pursuing careers in education, counseling, occupational therapy, and many other fields. Furthermore, and possibly even more importantly, this kind of work serves to build empathy and compassion.

Our internship program also requires each intern complete a research-based project. The projects this year included:

• A promotional video for the Red Barn
• A 5-page research paper covering insurance and accessible riding
• A spinning wheel that offers students options in a fun, engaging way
• A PowerPoint connecting Christ to horseback riding
• A felt board to be used in unmounted lessons that works on a student’s fine motor skills
• A school curriculum designed to be accessible and engaging to students of all kinds

I speak for the entire staff when I say that we are impressed by our interns’ amazing creativity and hard work. All six of you played invaluable roles in making this Summer term successful. Thank you so much Abi, Alyssa, Cianan, Emily, Olivia, and Taylor for all your dedication!

 

 

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What the Take the Reins Run Means to Us

After being deployed three times, once to Iraq, our son, USMC Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward died by suicide on June 13, 2009.  You hear a great deal about men returning with PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury), but also many men carry ‘moral injuries ‘ which war can bring. Clay suffered from the injuries to his soul.

As Clay’s Mom (Debbie Ward), I became friends with many of his Marine brothers. They and their families have blessed ours tremendously! Some of these men contacted me in 2014 with a plan to come to town in 2015 and run 6 miles in memory of the 6th anniversary of Clay’s death. The Red Barn is a big part of our family, so when I bounced ideas off the staff,  Joy O’Neal offered to host the run through The Red Barn. Needless to say, I was delighted!! The Take the Reins Run has now become an annual event; this year our 4th!

The run has been such a healing time for all of us, our family as well as his Marine brothers. 

 

Each year we’ve had 20-35 Marines (counting family members). It is amazing to see many men return every year. You may think that this would be a sad time, but not so. We remember all the good times (and do they have stories!), celebrate Clay’s by living in the moment of the reunion. Great healing has taken place through various things we do, including our annual trip to the Red Barn. They don’t want to leave!

I am often asked how the Run has helped us or Clay’s Marine brothers heal.  After Clay’s death, we found The Red Barn. Our daughter, Abi, Clay’s sister, began to participate in many of the programs offered by the barn. As a family, we integrated ourselves into many aspects of the barn.  While our hearts will always be wounded, we began to heal.

As for the Marines, I think one of Clay’s Marine brothers, Joseph, says it well.  Joseph’s note from 2017:

“Last weekend was such a spectacular time which lasted as quick as a blink of an eye. We gathered from across the nation once again to remember our brother who left us way too soon from his PTSD wound, Cpl. Anthony Clay Ward. Not only does this bring awareness outside the military/veteran community but his memory lives on through us. Each gathering has been helpful for many of us to cope and heal in our own way and helped enable us to share our experiences with others, which is the most difficult thing to do. With each gathering, our bond/brotherhood grows stronger and so does Clay’s memory. Momma Ward, Allan, and Abi, you have opened your home to us strangers and embraced us into your heart as family with such love and kindness that is insurmountable. Thank you! As Allan said after the run, “It’s now tradition” which means more participants will arrive and so will more veterans who knew Clay. Looking forward to creating more memories next year with all of you amazing people. Love you all and Semper Fidelis Joseph Mitjavila Los Angeles, CA”

Get ready, THE MARINES ARE COMING!  Please come out to greet them and thank them for their service! Give them a warm Alabama welcome! 

– Debbie Ward
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Have a Special Needs Child? Read These Articles!

The staff at The Red Barn have a special vantage point for seeing the unique trials faced by parents of children with special needs. Parenting is difficult even if your child is typical, but it is “a whole different ball game” when your child faces challenges every day that most people do not face in their whole lives.

For this reason, our amazing intern Emily Davidson put together a list of resources for our parents and anyone else who could benefit! This great information has been written by other people and agencies and we do not own any of the following content, but we do hope that this is helpful for the parents of our students.

  1. 10 Reasons Special Needs Parents Should Join a Support Group
  2. Parenting a Special Needs Child
  3. Mental Health Benefits: State Laws Mandating or Regulating
  4. 7 Things You Don’t Know About a Special Needs Parent
  5. Parent to Parent USA/Alabama
  6. National Autism Academy Offers Free 7-Part Video Series for Parents of Autistic Children
  7. Special Needs Kids Don’t Need Special Parents
  8. 20 Things Every Parent of Kids with Special Needs Should Hear
  9. Caring for Siblings of Children with Special Needs
  10. Disciplining Your Child with Special Needs
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Hello… and Goodbye

We love teaching. We believe in helping others learn how to facilitate healing with the aid of horses. Equine-assisted therapies are effective, not to mention fun, so why not be excited about teaching up-and-coming professionals in the field?

We also LOVE OUR VOLUNTEERS! Volunteers provide essential hands during lessons and camps, contribute new and fresh ideas for our programs, assist in the strategic planning process, and help us to pull off special events.

These two passions converge in our internship program. Every year, the best of the best college interns grace our barns to lend a hand while gaining invaluable professional experience. Interns are invited to participate in everything- the day-to-day of running a barn and caring for horses, planning camps and classes, attending staff meetings, giving input on important decisions, and of course, serving our adorable students.

Here’s a glimpse into our two amazing interns “on staff” right now.

Hello!

MaryBeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MaryBeth Knapp is a 22-year-old, horse-loving, Huntsville native. She earned her Equine Science degree from Auburn University and is now working to become a PATH certified instructor. She first learned about The Red Barn while studying at AU, and we are so grateful that she liked what she learned!

MaryBeth is now interning at the barn at least through the summer. She already has the riding experience needed for her future career since she began riding dressage when she was only 10 years old. But now she is getting experience working with people of all abilities while assisting during lessons, helping care for the horses, doing barn chores, and even helping with camps and social skills classes!

Please help us welcome MaryBeth if you see her around the barn!

Goodbye… 🙁

Emily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Davidson is a 24-year-old Masters of Social Work student at the University of Alabama. She was born in Florence and received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Alabama. She grew up with horses and knew that she wanted to help people and work with vulnerable populations, so it was not difficult to put the two together when she toured The Red Barn last year. Wasting no time, Emily immediately asked Joy about the possibility of an internship. No surprise- her internship began in January!

While interning at the barn, Emily has been helping with lessons and camps, doing needs assessments with the parents of our students, completing some of the never-ending barn chores, and she has also put together a resource guide for the parents of our students. (Pssst: You can look for that resource guide to be published here within the next week!)

Emily is breaking ground as the University of Alabama’s first Social Work student to intern in EAT (equine assisted therapy). After graduating on May 4, she hopes to eventually use her love and knowledge of horses while providing services to those in need.

Please help us congratulate Emily on her upcoming graduation and thank her for all of the hard work she has put in at the barn! Leave her a word of encouragement on our Facebook page.

Your donations make it possible to share faith, hope, and love with children and train tomorrow’s leaders of the equine industry.  Give today to continue doubling the impact of your donation to reach even more children and families in need.

 

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Keep Calm. Spring is Coming!

What does it take to have an amazing spring term?

Our spring term begins on Monday, April 2! We are so excited about the beautiful weather and to see the smiling faces of our students. But have you wondered what it takes to “pull off” a spring term at The Red Barn?

Admin Team

Let’s start with the administrative side of things. First, the previous fall term’s students are contacted to confirm that they’d like to return for the spring. Then their day of the week and time for their lesson are both confirmed and the student is placed on the spring schedule. Once the returning students are scheduled, the waiting list is examined to determine if there are any availabilities that match an open time spot with an appropriate horse and instructor.  Click here to read more about our waiting list. At the same time, staff schedules are also being planned for the term and updated student paperwork is received and processed.

Programs Team

Instructors discuss riding goals with the parents and students as well as determine how many volunteers will be needed for their lesson if any.  Available volunteers are paired up with the students who need them the most. Meetings are scheduled so that student, parent, volunteer(s), and the instructor can meet and get familiar with each other. This allows students to be more comfortable with their lesson helpers, volunteers to be better prepared, instructors to know what to expect, and parents to share their goals for their child’s upcoming term.

Once lesson goals are decided they are entered into the database. Contact information is used to invoice parents. Lesson plans are created based on goals for students and shared with necessary staff members.

Is a theme coming through here? Personalization! Experiences are tailor-made for our students, factoring in all available information for the utmost safety, efficiency, effectiveness, and FUN!

Annual tasks are being completed at this time as well, such as preparing information for the 990, compiling the program evaluation for the previous year, and developing the annual report for the previous year. All of this while carrying on the year-long duties of paying the bills, fundraising, planning events, conducting tours, fielding new calls of interest, screening and training new volunteers and interns, and helping other similar agencies start up or improve their programs.

Horse Team

Now let’s talk about the horses. I mean, we couldn’t do what we do without them! Most of the horses haven’t been riding the trails over the winter, so our horse team is working with them to become familiar with the trails again. Mock lessons are being done so that our equine staff members are refreshed on how to do their jobs! Now that the days are getting warmer and the nights aren’t quite so chilly, the horses are being rotated to their spring/summer pasture rotation of being inside the barn during the day and out at night.  In preparation for the spring, the horses (and staff members) are being worked pretty hard so that they are all in their very best shape for our students.

Operations and Property Team

And what would a visit to The Red Barn be without being able to take in the gorgeous, peaceful sights?

Red barn and carvings

There are pastures to be seeded, grassy areas to be trimmed, weeds to be sprayed, tree limbs to be picked up, trails to clear for safety, sidewalks to edge, fences to mend, and structures to be pressure washed! The list goes on!

While you might be thinking that this sounds a bit exhausting, we think that it sounds like a normal season at The Red Barn. This is what we do: plan, clean, cut, clear, organize, strategize, update, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. All for your kiddos because we know that having a place to feel loved and accepted can make all the difference in the world.

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Upcoming Thanksgiving Camps

Our parents are so thankful for our Thanksgiving week camps! We offer Art Camp, Pioneer Camp, and Nature Camp from November 20th – 22nd. These camps are open to children with or without disabilities and special circumstances. All Thanksgiving week camps are unmounted and for students in grades 2nd-8th. Each camp costs $50 per student. Don’t forget to pack a lunch! Further paperwork and evaluation may be required. Scholarships are available upon request.

Art Camp
Date: November 20th, 9:30-1:00

Create fun, Thanksgiving crafts that you can show to your family. We will be making Holiday wreaths, feather necklaces, and more!


Pioneer Camp
Date: November 21st, 9:30-1:00

Come learn how Pioneers survived cold winters. We will do creative, educational activities to learn more about the pioneering lifestyle, such as making cording and goats milk soap!


Nature Camp
Date: November 22nd, 9:30-1:00

Explore our beautiful property along the Little Cahaba and learn about the surrounding wildlife! Discover what our small animals do around the barn during the holiday season. We will be walking across lots of uneven terrains and down by the river so being able to move around safely and somewhat independently is important.


If you’d like to check availability or sign-up for any of the camps, please visit this page.

-Connor

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Recent Work Groups!

Last week, three different work groups assisted with various projects around the Red Barn. Monday morning, Leeds High School’s Key Club paid us a visit. On Friday, the accounting firm Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith held an all-day serve day at the Barn. And finally, a volunteer group from UAB came out on Saturday morning. We’re truly thankful for all their help!

The LHS Key Club was the largest group, consisting of nearly 30 students. Due to the size of the club, our staff split them into three smaller groups to divide and conquer. Group one deep cleaned the bunny hutch and surrounding pen before clearing the roadside ditch in front of the white and brick houses of mud, pine-straw, leaves, and other debris that clogged it after Hurricane Nate. Group two deep cleaned the goat and duck pens. They also picked up sticks in the goat pasture and changed out the water in their buckets and troughs. Group three kept our trails tidy by ensuring the obstacles were all clean and by picking up the countless sticks that scattered the trails following Hurricane Nate.

The BMSS serve day was the smallest group in size, but worked for seven hours! They helped with all sorts of projects: stripping and replacing shavings in stalls, trimming rose bushes, cleaning all of our horses’ buckets and troughs, and more. Fridays tend to be busy days lesson-wise, and luckily the BMSS group filled in to complete several weekly chores our staff would have struggled to finish without the extra hands.

UAB’s work group split the difference with about 15 students, which we also divvied into three smaller groups. Bunnies, goats, and ducks are very messy animals, so we again focused on cleaning their respective pens. In addition, the volunteers spread ant killer on the numerous ant beds popping up all over the property, picked up poop in horse pastures, and painted the wooden spools in the goat pasture.

All three groups were absolutely amazing. Due to the small size of our staff and limited time we have between lessons, we heavily rely on these large volunteer work groups to help with many of the more daunting tasks that come with the upkeep of a 33-acre property and the care of over two dozen animals. Thank you so much to the people at Leeds High School, Barfield, Murphy, Shank, & Smith, and UAB for donating your time to assist us. The Red Barn wouldn’t have the time or resources to serve all our wonderful students without your help!

-Connor

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Intern Insights: Sylvie

Sylvie “Sunshine” Daggett is a long-time volunteer at the Red Barn. This past Summer, she accepted a position as an intern and worked three days a week at the Barn. Sylvie helped with lessons and daily operations while receiving training in order to become a certified instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). We appreciate all the hard work Sylvie puts in to helping the Barn, and are thrilled to announce that she recently accepted a full-time position on our staff! I decided to sit down with her so she could share some insight into her experience over the past few months. I hope you all enjoy this exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into the life of a Red Barn intern!

Connor: You’ve been volunteering at the Red Barn for a few years now, correct? How’d you originally hear about the Barn?

Sylvie: Shelley Jones (a former Red Barn instructor) came to my school, Evangel Christian School, for a school orientation and mentioned the Red Barn as a place to volunteer. I had been looking for a place to serve and like horses so it sounded cool to me.

ConnorWhat drew you towards pursuing an internship at the Barn?

Sylvie: Having the opportunity to work more with so many of our awesome students, like Hailey Grace.

Connor: In what ways has your experience as an intern differed from your experience as a volunteer?

Sylvie: You get to see the background, like all that behind the scenes jazz, at the Barn more as an intern and how much work goes into everything. As a volunteer, you’re more guided from lesson to lesson.

Connor: What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming an intern?

Sylvie: Just to get ready to fall in love with the hardest job that gives back the mostest.

Connor: Do you plan on going into the field of therapeutic horseback riding or do you have another career path in mind?

Sylvie: Yep to the first part! I’m currently working on becoming a PATH-certified instructor.

Connor: Do you have horses of your own? How long have you been riding?

Sylvie: I’ve been riding consistently since I was 13 and I have two horses, Chica and Molly.

Connor: What’s your favorite color?

Sylvie: Uhhhh… Peach, it’s a happy color! Or maybe grey.

Connor: Anything else you’d like to add? Any shout-outs?

Sylvie: Yeah, I’d like to give a big shout-out to my boy, Billy the goat.

-Connor