It’s been five years since Kim Henry partnered with Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville and took with her Mane Support’s model of care for helping students who experience grief and trauma. The nonprofit works with students in its Supporting Our Schools program with the use of horses as part of the therapy. Today, Mane Support is in Montgomery Ridge Intermediate, Eagleton Middle, Eagleton Elementary and potentially two more schools in this community along with Coulter Grove. Teachers and guidance counselors identify students they believe would benefit from the equine-assisted grief counseling. Each week, 60 to 70 students meet with counselors and interact with the animals.
It’s all about being in the moment for the horses, Henry said. They have no agenda. “They care about who you are,” she explained. Once per month, the students have a barn day at Mane Support’s facility on Davis Ford Road. This year for the first time, all of the kids will come on the same day. It’s important to show the students they aren’t alone, Henry said. No matter where they are, there will be grief and loss, but also people to support them.
“Coulter Grove is our pilot program,” said Henry, Mane Support’s founder and CEO. “It has allowed us to grow the program to serve the needs of more students.”
And every year, the needs change, she said. Some of the students have experienced the death of someone they love, like a family member or friend. Others are suffering loss due to divorce or separation. It can be hard for the students to express their anxiety, fear and grief, Henry said. SOS steps in and helps them find their way. On Saturday, Aug. 24, Mane Support will hold its annual Hoof to Heart Celebration Dinner, with a special emphasis on the children and their families served here. It takes place at 5:30 p.m. at the Mane Support facility, 2919 Davis Ford Road, Maryville. Rothchild’s will again be the caterer. Music will be provided by Cats Away. In years past, the dinner has been more formal, with tableware and decor somewhat upscale. The 2019 affair is more stripped down, Henry said. Tablecloths will be artsy and look paint splattered. The food will appeal to the taste buds of the younger attendees, with chicken tenders and mac and cheese on the menu. The cost to attend also has been reduced, to $25 for adults and ages 10 and under admitted free.
The proceeds from the event will go to the SOS program to pay for supplies and therapists. As she has worked with students over the years, Henry has noticed that unexpected trauma can affect children greatly. The recent death of a young boy in the community is but one example.
“Those traumas hit us hard,” Henry said. “It is about not only taking care of those who have experienced that loss but also the ones on the front lines — the teachers and guidance counselors. The first responders. All of these people that are front-line people because they do their jobs so well they get lost in being able to take care of themselves.”
It is Henry’s hope that all who have come to the Hoof to Heart Celebration Dinner will come back, for a reunion of sorts. It will be a time to be thankful for all that has been done through the organization and to look forward as the school year begins.
Anne Hack is a volunteer with Mane Support who has taken over responsibilities of volunteer coordinator. She started with the nonprofit after moving from New York City. Her daughter had expressed an interest in horses so Hack felt the organization could teach her more than the glamour of riding. All of Mane Support’s programs are done on the ground. Children ages 10 and above are encouraged to volunteer. Hack’s son, Kaden, is part of the organization, too.
“It gives children the opportunity to take part in something that is special and meaningful,” Hack said. “They are getting as much as they are giving. They learn about the vulnerability of life. It has taught my daughter so much.”
There is a place for anyone who loves horses or who wants to share a talent in art or gardening, Henry said. Kaden, 6, has come in to muck the stalls, fill water buckets and learn other important tasks.
As the volunteer coordinator, it is Hack’s job to recruit more volunteers and train them. “It’s all about networking and letting more people in the community know what you are doing,” Hack said.
As Henry says with each advancement, none of it could have been possible without the volunteers, the staff and other supporters. Having the strong backing has allowed Mane Support to open an additional campus in Rockwood. Reaching more children and families is the focus there, too. Henry said she will bring back the horses from Kingston for the reunion.
“When you unite, you are stronger,” Henry said.