The girls kicked off Polish with a painting party last spring. In the past year, they have also participated in a self-defense class, eaten sushi at Stix, shopped at the Galleria and attended both a ballet and a Broadway show in Birmingham.
However, program coordinator Ina Harbison wants the girls to know that becoming polished also means learning the importance of community service.
“Life is not all about Broadway shows, hanging out and eating good. It’s about giving back and reconnecting with people,” Harbison said.
Polish participants recently went on a field trip to Equines Assisting Special Individuals, a therapeutic horseback riding program in Jasper.
The girls spent several hours interacting with special needs adults from Eagle’s Wings of Tuscaloosa as well as EASI’s team of horses.
One of the more memorable events from the day occurred when a hesitant rider walked her horse over a single pole as the students loudly cheered her on.
Several students expressed an interest in volunteering at EASI in their spare time, and Harbison said the program could count on further help from Polish as well.
“We can’t come up here every month as much as most of us would like to, but I think twice a year would be feasible,” Harbison said.
Melissa Searcy, executive assistant at EASI, said more than 31 high school students have volunteered in weekly lessons this session in addition to the 19 who visited from Cordova High School on March 16.
She added that those who continue their involvement shouldn’t be surprised if they get as much from the program as special needs clients.
“We’ve realized that everybody can benefit from this program. Not just the riders but everybody gains certain skills from being with each of these horses,” Searcy said.
There is a new focus at EASI and in the therapeutic riding industry as a whole on equine facilitated learning.
During this four-week session, EASI served 44 weekly therapeutic riders, 20 monthly riders and 33 students who participated in EFL classes.
Earlier this year, EASI started working with at-risk adolescents from Youth Advocate Programs.
The youth assisted riders during weekly lessons and also had an hour of horsemanship training.
Searcy said learning about horse behavior has already started to change how the students interact with others.
“A lot of them have gained confidence and leadership skills,” Searcy said.
The Arc of Walker County brings a group of clients for EFL and vocational training.
Special needs students from Corner High School are also preparing to enter the workforce by volunteering at EASI.
Searcy said that because of EFL, riders and volunteers alike can sense a new energy around the barn.
“We really want to stress independence with everyone,” she said.