BEST OF > The Charity Register 2010
Author: Jennifer Freihofer
Photographer: Brian Tietz
As the horse breaks into a trot, six-year-old A.J. sits up straighter, tosses his helmet-strapped head back and bursts into a contagious giggle. His parents, Michon and Angel Chamorro, laugh from outside the covered riding arena. Then, A.J. leans forward onto the pillow that supports him in the saddle.
Away we go!: Volunteers Brittany Reynoso (left) and Christiane Daniel (right) help six-year-old A.J. Chamorro as he rides Spot at Naples Equestrian Challenge.
At Naples Equestrian Challenge, A.J’s time on the specially trained horse, surrounded by certified instructors and volunteers, is a form of physical therapy for his cerebral palsy. His parents say it’s worth the drive from Estero to see his upper body strength, posture and vocals improve. Plus, his dad says, he absolutely loves it. “Every time he hears the word ‘horse’ or sees a picture, he’s pointing,” Angel says.
Each week, the program serves more than 100 children and adults with developmental delays caused by disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome to stroke and amputations. Another 40 to 50 riders participate in mental health activities for autism, attention-deficit disorder and more.
Melissa Caffey, Naples Equestrian Challenge’s former executive director, says most participants are on scholarship and ride about 40 times a year. They are charged only $10 per half-hour session, although it costs the program between $4,000 to $5,000 per rider.
Stacie Wiesenbaugh of Bonita Springs brings her son Riley Buck, eight, to ride. He was born with a brain hemorrhage that caused cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia, hearing and visual impairments, and other complications that require him to be strapped to the horse. She remembers their first visit. “The wind was really blowing,” she says. “The smell of the barn hit him, and he started laughing hysterically and wouldn’t stop. It was like this place was the right place for him. There are very few opportunities for him to participate in anything and enjoy himself.”
A.J.’s dad appreciates all the hard work put in by the 270 volunteers each week. “I think it’s nice to see people take time out of their lives to help kids that need it,” he says. “It’s a great program. I hope it never ends.”
Naples Equestrian Challenge is one of so many worthy charitable organizations throughout Collier and Lee counties. The list on the following pages provides the goals of 267 organizations and offers ways for you to get involved along the Gulfshore.