Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

October 4, 2013

Honda revs up the "horse" power for education

Rob Cox
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — GREENSBURG — On Wednesday morning, Honda made news friend in the community, reaching out to Triple R Equine Rescue Ranch to help this important part of Decatur County further its mission of providing sanctuary to imperiled horses and spread “equine facilitated learning” throughout the region.

Cindy Haavisto, branch manager of Honda Federal Credit Union, Greensburg, joined other Honda colleagues for a first-hand glimpse of the Greensburg Junior High School’s (GJHS) “Unbridled Potential” program for at-risk students.

“This is my first time out here,” Haavisto said. “We were very intrigued by the description of this program and what it offers.” Haavisto added that she was impressed to have such an important endeavor as Triple R “right here in our [Honda’s] backyard” and was pleased to have discovered it. “We want to make all our associates aware of this,” she added.

Now in its fourth year, Unbridled Potential kicked off in 2011 when GJHS Special Education Teacher Heather Sanders was awarded a grant to fund it. Sanders and others at GJHS created Unbridled as a way to help motivate kids through the use of alternative learning; as a way to teach at-risk kids cooperation, leadership, responsibility, teamwork and patience. Participating students are in grades 6 through 8, and might be struggling academically, socially or behaviorally. It’s not uncommon for these kids to come from strained or tense home environments and to have disciplinary issues at school.

Through the program, kids learn to care for and eventually ride the horses. Program volunteer Shelley Davis explained that kids are first introduced and exposed to the horses and their personalities. Then, little by little, in distinct stages, contact and interaction between students and horses is gradually increased. By the end of the program, the goal is to have the kids become adept at caring for and riding the horses. The kids are often initially intimidated by the animals, Davis said, making gradual interaction all the more critical.

The program, has been very successful in its goals, she added. The confirmed animal lover said she’s seen many of the kids blossom through the program by connecting with the often-abused animals on a deeply personal level.

In a May interview, Sanders told the Daily News that she and Triple R Owner and Founder Debbie Richards had been able to create a unique synergy by pairing two groups that needed each other. “She [Richards] had horses that needed a job, and we had kids who need motivation,” Sanders said at the time. “It was a perfect match.”

Dan Libbey, supervisor at Honda Trading, was greatly impressed with that synergy. “A lot of us are passionate about kids and [about] animals,” he said, adding that Unbridled is impressive for its ability to benefit both groups by connecting the two.

The Honda contingent did more than merely pay lip service to the virtues of Unbridled Potential and of Triple R, though. With Haavisto taking the lead, the group also donated a $100 in cash to the program, as well as $150 in supplies.

Haavisto revealed bigger plans, too, explaining that she wants to initiate a holiday collection drive at the Credit Union for the upcoming season. That drive would revolve around the Unbridled kids and collect food and items the kids need for the program – gloves, boots, winter coats, etcetera. Haavisto and associates at the Credit Union would wrap the gifts and place them around the facility’s Christmas tree. The Credit Union would then invite the kids to come open the gifts.

Sanders, Richards and Decatur County Director of Tourism Melanie Maxwell hoped they might form an even deeper partnership with Honda by applying for and securing a grant with the company. To that end, Anita Sipes, Corporate Communications for Honda Manufacturing of Indiana, was also on hand Wednesday to become acquainted with Triple R and with Unbridled Potential. Sipes oversees the community grant process at Honda. Sipes said she too was impressed with the synergy of Unbridled and Triple R, but declined to speculate on the program’s chances of securing a grant.

Maxwell, who’s heavily involved with the Ranch, told the Daily News that such a grant would be used to pay for an awning – perhaps a fully-enclosed tent of some kind – in which the Unbridled kids could work with and ride the horses during winter. The current grant cycle ends at the end of October. Maxwell made clear that she’ll have the grant application completed and turned in by that date. After that, she’ll be crossing her fingers, waiting with other applicants, hoping Honda can further assist the Unbridled kids and the rescued horses at Triple R in assisting each other.

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011