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BRAVEHEARTS THEAPEUTIC RIDING AND EDUCATIONAL CENTER

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Nonprofit Overview

Mission: BraveHearts provides equine-assisted activities and therapies with teams of expert staff, dedicated volunteers and therapy horses at multiple safe and caring facilities. In addition to serving children and adults, BraveHearts provides innovative services to meet the needs of our military veterans and their families. By utilizing a faculty of national experts, BraveHearts is a center of excellence within the therapeutic industry through its unique efforts in programming, education and research.

Target demographics: bring hope, joy and unlimited possibilities through the healing power of the horse to individuals in need

Direct beneficiaries per year: 1183 individuals and 13,035 sessions

Geographic areas served: Harvard and Poplar Grove Illinois

Programs: equine- assisted activities such as therapeutic riding, foundation horsemanship, therapeutic carriage driving, mustang gentling, physical, occupational and speech therapy using hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.

Community Stories

12 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I think that BraveHearts is a well organized nonprofit riding and educational center. Everyone there are very friendly, volunteers and paid employees. I think what they do is extraordinary and it shows through the participants, volunteers, and employees. To me it is very therapeutic just volunteering and being able to help whenever I can.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been a volunteer with the Bravehearts organization for three years. It is a very rewarding experience to work with all of the clients and horses on a weekly basis. It is great to see the progress of the clients in the Hippotherapy classes from week to week. I feel like I get so much more out of my volunteer work than I contribute and have met so many wonderful people along the way. Bravehearts is a great place to volunteer and give something back to the community. The Veterans Program is a phenomenal program for the brave Men & Women and their families who have served our great country. It is my honor to be a volunteer with such a wonderful organization and to be able to help so many people.

Jennifer M.1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Bravehearts has changed my life. I spent more than a decade trying to find anything to bring just a little relief from the daily struggles with PTSD. This program has given me more than I could ever have hoped for, and I will be forever grateful. The horses and people at Bravehearts have become my family and I can't imagine where I'd be if I never found them.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Volunteering at BraveHearts has been such a blessing for me. I have been able to experience how the both the veterans and the mustangs help each other heal and regain their confidence. Although we often receive a ‘thank you’ from the participants, it is I who must thank them. They allow me to give back and to share a love and passion that I have. There is nothing better than watching them smile, laugh and as one participant said “get out of my head for at least an hour or two”. The staff and other volunteers – along with the therapists from the VA centers – really do work miracles. The continued training we receive as volunteers helps to better serve our clients in both the therapeutic riding and Hippotherapy programs. I am proud to be part of the BraveHearts team!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I had heard about Brave Hearts and had thought about checking it out but when we ran into a veteran at an event at the BMO Harris Bank Center we (my husband is a Vietnam Nam vet) decided to attend a special BH event. We got to experience, first hand, some of the awesome services offered by BH including going into a round pen with a mustang! We immediately signed up to volunteer and later participate in some of the services offered to veterans and their families!! And now, over a year & a half later, we are regularly involved at BH!! You see, horses have ALWAYS been a passion for me and now my husband shares my passion and the healing power of the horse!! The rewards have been many!! We love Brave Hearts!!

Board Member

Rating: 5

As a volunteer and board member, I could not be more proud of my association with BraveHearts. The organization exists because of a great need to serve our veterans as well as others who greatly benefit from the healing our horses provide.
The staff and volunteers are the most dedicated group and along with our horses, our greatest asset. Their many hours of service make the organization what it is.

When you see the positive change in the participants physically, emotionally and socially, you are able to see and appreciate all the benefits BraveHearts offers first hand. I know our participants would tell you the same if asked.

It is a rewarding experience all around to be part of something so powerful. We plan to grow and continuously improve in all areas of BraveHearts with the continued support of our most generous donors and supporters.

Kathy Allegretti
BraveHearts Board

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been privileged to be volunteering at BraveHearts for two and a half years now. The most rewarding thing about this opportunity is to see the amazing progress of the clients participating in the therapeutic riding programs. The horses are a vital part of the progress and being able to be around them has also helped me learn a great deal about myself.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Thursdays are the best day of the week! Why? Because it is BraveHearts Day on my calendar. I am a volunteer with BraveHearts, going into my 6th year. I am an exercise rider, horse leader and mentor for other volunteers. I came to BraveHearts with prior experience in hippotherapy. The reason I chose BraveHearts is because of the professionalism of the program. Safety is always first, each session is always about how to have the best session the participant. Our therapists and instructors continually amaze me with their creativity. BraveHearts puts a large emphasis on training for volunteers, as well as staff. Training equals consistency, consistency equals great sessions. Everyone at BraveHearts is dedicated, caring and professional. It is truly rewarding to me to watch the progress of our participants as they blossom from their interaction with our therapy horses. I believe we have the best therapy horses who are well-cared for, happy, and truly enjoy their role in sessions. With all of the training provided to horse leaders and sidewalkers, BraveHearts provides positive, well-run and productive sessions, with happy horses, dedicated therapists and instructors, and well trained, qualified volunteers, who work together as a well-oiled team.

Client Served

Rating: 5

Before I let, you know what BraveHearts has meant to me. I would like to tell you a little about myself and my conditions I had when I arrived at BraveHearts. I am 53 years old, I served 24 years active duty with the United States Air Force. I was deployed numerous times for both training and deployments five of which were combat deployments. I retired at in 2007 at the rank of Master Sergeant. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, manic depression, severe anxiety disorder, and migraines. To deal with these I take a number of medications and isolate myself. I took a job working for a call center troubleshooting phone, television, and internet issues in 2007. The position paid very well about $34 an hour with lots of benefits. Before long, I started calling into work sick because I could not handle working 40 hours a week. Calling in sick and my vacation time still was not enough so I started to isolate myself whenever I could. I moved a recliner out into my garage and would spent most of my time there alone. This worked for the about the first 4 years and by this time I was almost completely isolated even from my family, but things continued to get worse. At this point, I turned to elective surgery and allowed the wound site to get infected so I could take extended time off of work. I know that was not very smart but I was very desperate by this time. I continued to call in sick and worked the system to get as much time off as I could. I just could not handle working anymore. March of 2014 I signed myself in to an inpatient mental health program. I did not think it would help at all but it would get me another 60 days out of work and another month of reduced hours and duty after I returned to work. At this point, I was working very hard every day not to even see other people let alone talk to anyone. I was almost completely isolated, I could not work, I could not go out, I could not even be around or talk to my family. I was no longer caring for myself. I did not shower, shave, change my clothes, or even brush my teeth. If it were not for my retirement and disability pay, I would have lost my house. My Family knew they were better off just leaving me along. I was in impossible to deal with. Dawn (my wife) finally could not take it anymore and asked me to get some help. The VA strongly suggested that I go to the DOM and try to develop some skills to deal with all my issues. I only went to the DOM because Dawn suggested I go. I could not make any decisions for myself anymore. Someone would have to tell me what to do. I could no longer think straight or concentrate and I could barely talk to people. I was in consent pain from muscle tension and stress. Life pretty much sucked but I did not really want to change anything about it because I did not want to deal with anything. I was no longer part of anything and often wondered why I was still around and wished I had died in combat. I was about as low as you can go when I entered my inpatient program.
I was sent to BraveHearts as part of my inpatient program. When they brought the horses out this time I was astonishing, I could really see their beauty and could not wait to ride. This time while ridding I could hear Paddy and wanted to follow his lead and do all the things he was asking of me just right to show him I cared. Holy crap I cared, I did not even know I could do that anymore but I really did care. I felt really good and I wanted to feel that way more often. This time I felt part of the horse but also part of the group. . That was the first time I could remember feeling like a person again it would forever change me.
I now started to spread the word of this great place called BraveHearts where the horses are so beautiful and everyone has a heart of gold. I wanted everyone to be a part of what I was doing and how I felt now. It was just too good to keep to myself. From that time on, I started to take part in my classes at the DOM really trying to learn how I could make my life better. I started talking to my wife and family and letting them talk to me. I started to feel my life could be more than a chair in the garage and a cigar. I started to feel like I did not need to isolate and be alone. That I may even be worth something and my life could have meaning. I could go on, on about the things Meggan, Paddy, the horses, and the BraveHearts staff have taught me, and how they have helped me. Like when they asked me to be an instructor and what Meggan did for Mary that nigh in the barn, words could never express what BreaveHearts means to me. However, I will tell you because of BreaveHearts I am now going to school full time and getting straight A’s. I have made the Dean’s list two semesters in a roll. I no longer have a chair out in the garage and I am again part of my family. I feel my family’s love and their kindness because I let them back in and I only let them back in because of BraveHearts. I now go places, do things again, and for the most part enjoy life. I still have many hurdles to overcome and may never get over some of them but now I am at least trying. With BraveHearts help, I am now a PATH Therapeutic Riding Instructor. BraveHearts has had the courage to see potential in me when I felt I had nothing to give. They have taught me to live in the moment and not dwell on my mistakes and shortcomings. When I fail, they are the first ones there to pick me back up and challenge me to try again. I have so much more to learn from BraveHearts through the people, horseback riding, and Operation Mustang and they are ready to help me achieve my wildest dreams. I am proud I can now give back to others in need and I hope I can help others recognize their endless potential. The BraveHearts experience has transformed me from a man who could have won hermit of the year, to a person that knows I have so much to give and that I can help others back into the real world through the power of therapeutic riding and Operation Mustang. I have gone from wishing I had died to a person that is looking for the next challenge no matter what it is. More than that, I want to help others face their fears and defeat those fears. For the first time in my life I BELIEVE I can do anything. BraveHearts has saved my life and I will be forever grateful.

Previous Stories

Client Served

Rating: 5

Operation Mustang is vital to me. Working with the mustangs engages every one of your senses and can bring a person like myself back to life. When I first started working with the mustangs I was at the end of my rope. I spent all my time completely cut off from everything. I didn’t talk to my family, I had no friends, lost my job, and spent most days wishing I was dead. Through the VA I was introduced to BraveHearts and Operation Mustang. The first time I walked into the round pen to work with one of these great animals I was nervous and my heart is pounding. I wonder what am I doing this is crazy, but then I started to move the mustang’s feet, getting him to turn and move the direct I want him too. I started building that trust with the Mustang. I started to see the changes in the mustang and could anticipate what they were going to do next all the while trying to show the mustang that it will be safer and easier to do thing my way.
One of the greatest things in this program is all the “first”, the first time in the pen, the first time a mustang moves for you, the first time you touch the mustang…the list goes on and on. Each one of these first changes me. It is a win, a success, a victory for me, someone who had really given up on everything and everyone. Each day I work with the mustangs I get another reason to live, to try and be part of society to be productive and feel human again. This feeling of hope is something I have been without for such a long time and I do not ever want to loss it again. Another great thing about this program is there is no end meaning that the next horse you work with is going to be different and will have to be handled a different way. Again a whole new set of “firsts”, whole new challenges, and a whole new reason to have hope.
It is hard to explain what it means to work with this great people and animals. I would strongly encourage you to come and see the program first hand. To come out and feel the “firsts” that I am talking about. Even if you think you have your live all together and it could not get any better I would bet you would feel and see a change in yourself. This program and these mustangs change a person, they challenge a person and they make a person whole again. Like I said it is hard to explain what this program means without experiencing it yourself. The program has touched and helped so many vets like myself and should be expanded to every state in the country. The health benefits to the vets will be unmeasurably high. These horses can and will heal so many vets that are broken and feel they have nothing left that they are at the end of their rope and all that is left it to let the rope go. This program has saved my life and can save the lives of so many others. This is an opportunity for the VA to have a huge success, a win, a victory. Everyone will come out better if this program is allowed to grow the VA, the centers that have the program, the mustangs themselves and of course us the Vets will be the biggest winner.
I can tell you that I have gone from wanting to be dead to a, volunteer and instructor for this program. I have gone from setting alone in the dark to talking to my family and being part of their lives. I have gone from a scared used up person to a one with hope and one that wants new challenges a new chance to be the man I used to be and so much more. I am now a full time student with a 4.0 GPA for the last 3 semesters working on an associate’s degree in Medical Administrations at Bryant & Stratton University. This program has given me back my wife, children and granddaughter. It has given me a reason to get up each morning and take on the day. I have gained a new life from this program working with the mustangs and my only hope is this program can grow to reach out to all vets in need. The vets desire the chance to be a part of society again to give again to be human again and most of to have hope again and that is what working with these mustangs can give them.

Ronald S Hathaway MSgt USAF (retire)

Client Served

Rating: 5

My name is Mary B and I am a veteran of the United States Army and know personally how a horse can save and change lives of people in particular the military. In order for these miracles of healing and absolute life to occur there has to be a place that provides the horses, people, kindness, support, love, patience and understanding and I know by experience that BraveHearts is that place. I have been at other therapeutic riding centers in several states and BraveHearts exceeds the other facilities because of their true dedication, determination, professional in very broad terms seeing the big picture but more importantly to me they make the individual feel validated wherever they may be on their journey. It is difficult for some veterans (me as one) to trust or believe in something or someone again and BraveHearts provides this vital piece to a recovery. I have seen how BraveHearts reaches out to other centers throughout the world for collaboration, to teach and to learn from others. BraveHearts is well respected in their professional world and I feel fortunate to be a part of that world.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I just want to take a minute to let you know how important Operation Mustang has been for my husband Ron, myself and our entire family. This time last year I was consumed with worry that Ron was going to end his life. He would not talk or interact with anyone in the family. He had lost his job because the stress, anxiety, anger, and depression of daily living were just too much for him. He could no longer interact with people and had cut himself completely off from society. He is such a kind and loving person with so much to give but he no longer saw that and he had lost all hope. Ron was introduced to BraveHearts through the Milwaukee VA hospital and than BraveHearts started him in Operation Mustang. From the first time he worked with the Mustangs I could see a change in him. He called me on the phone (which would have never happened before) and told me all about the bond he had made with this Mustang he worked in the round pen. He said when he first entered the pen both him and the mustang were scared for their life not know what was going to happen and how they both just wanted to be safe. He said as he worked with the mustang and he started to get it to move around the pen with him he could feel the bond. He could sense the Mustang wanting to trust him and how he wanted to trust the Mustang. He told me it was like a first dance were they couple does not know each other and are nervous even stepping on each others toes, but slow they start to move together to relax to gain trust and start to feel and move as one. Their heartbeat and breathing were one breath on heartbeat as if they were supposed to be together. He told me he felt safe for the first time in years. And he told me he loved me. I had not heard that from him in a long time it made me cry. I had a small glimmer of hope that he may come back to me that he maybe the Ron I once knew. He continues to work with the Mustangs and each day he comes home he is so much better than the last. He talks to me, he holds me and loves me. He talks to our children and plays with his granddaughter Sami. It is more than just an action he wants to be there he wants to be part of our family again he cares for the first time in years. He is doing so much better he is even going to school full time and has been getting straight A’s for the last three semesters I am so proud of him.
I truly believe all of this has been made possible because of Operation Mustang, I am so grateful to have my husband back and to feel like a family again. I can not help but think of all the spouses and children around the country that could be helped from this great program. My husband has always meant the world to me and it is only because of Operation Mustang that he has truly come home. Thank you so much for all you have done for my family

Dawn Hathaway 4/28/2016