Miles of Smiles expands

7/4/2014

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

For the first time since its founding 17 years ago, Miles of Smiles is on the brink of expanding its facilities.

"The expansion's going to be about a 2,400-square-foot addition," Rick Collins, president of the Miles of Smiles board of directors said.

The expansion will include an instructors' office, an ADA-compliant handicap restroom, a new tacking area and a new loading area. It will also include a multi-purpose room that will be used as a classroom, meeting room and showroom, where people can sit to watch clients showcase the horseback riding skills they have obtained through the program.

"We have quite a few older folks that come in, and this is going to give them a place to sit because we're going to cut through our wall between our arena and the office, so we'll have a large open area in which people can sit and watch, in air conditioning, where it's dry," he said.

According to its website, www.miles-of-smiles.org, the therapeutic riding program provides equine-assisted activities to individuals with Down syndrome, autism, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, amputation, attention deficit disorder, and other types of mental and physical disabilities. Therapeutic riding helps develop self-awareness and self-confidence, improvement in concentration and fine motor skills, and physical benefits, including muscle strengthening and stretching. The horses provide riders with a feeling of freedom and independence.

Collins said the expansion will also include a hoist system that will make it safer for clients to mount the horses.

"We're going to go to a hoist system so it's much better for the instructors and the clients. Some of the ladies that we have instructing, you know, it's kind of hard to handle a 200-pound gentleman or a really large child, especially when you get them up on top of a horse and they're out of their range¬ -- this is going to put everybody on an even ground," he said.

Kate Howland, director of the program, said they use a mounting ramp to get clients atop the horses.

"The rider gets on through their designated way of getting on, and we have a volunteer on each side and the instructor helping with that process, so the lift system is going to be a lot better," Howland said.

Collins said it will be the first expansion undertaken at the Miles of Smiles facility, located on 901 W. Maple St., since it was founded by Joyce Adams in 1997.

"This is going to be mostly through donations that we have scrimped and saved throughout the years. We figure this is a good time to expand. We need it. And I think the people deserve to see where some of their money is going verses. 'Well it's in a savings account,'" Collins said. "We want to show the people that we're good shepherds of their money but we also don't want people to think we're rat holing it away and not doing anything with it."

The board also tries to purchase everything with cash.

"We can't guarantee how much money we're going to take in, and we hate to take out notes and not be able to pay them back or have to get rid of our stock, which is the lifeblood of the organization — if you don't have horses or cant afford to feed them, you don't have a program," he said. "We replace the equipment as needed, we update our horses as they become older and we get them good feed and good vet care and good hoof care. By the time you get done checking off the list, you have to see how much money is left in the checkbook before you go out and say, 'We're going to do this.'"

The expansion is estimated to cost around $60,000, but if it comes in higher than what donated funds can cover, Collins said they will delay certain aspects of the project until they have funds available, rather than borrow it.

The board started accepting bids for the project this spring and Collins said it is deciding between two vendors. He expects construction to begin in October or November.

"We're hoping that it will be done 30 to 45 days from the time we start until the time we're putting in the finishing touches on everything," he said. "It's just getting everything coordinated and set in place so it happens that fast."

Three instructors and 70 volunteers are involved in the program, which serves 42 clients, and Howland said she has a lengthy waiting list, which can't be accommodated until they get another instructor.

"Hopefully I can get more instructors going to help us out with that. That would be great," she said, adding that a lot of schooling and training is required for someone to become an instructor. "You have to go to a center, you have to pass all their tests, you have to pass written tests and everything, so it's pretty in depth."

Collins added that instructors must also pass the "horse" test.

"Because you're not much of an instructor if you're scared of horses. They're big, they're four-legged and sometimes they love you a lot more than what you would like to be loved," he said, laughing.

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