Flashing a big smile while atop a blond pony at H.U.G.S. Ranch in Byron Center, Mich., 5-year-old Gracie VanderMolen of Jamestown Christian Reformed Church says riding horses and taking mentors’ advice helped her overcome insecurity.
Mentors counsel about 30 youngsters troubled by social, emotional, and spiritual situations who come for riding sessions. More volunteers help with barn and grounds management and operational expenses.
H.U.G.S. was started in 2008 by Lisa Carter and Tami VanderMolen, who both attend Jamestown CRC, with area horse aficionado Jill Glass. It took encouragement and time. “Every time we got to the point where we thought we couldn’t do it, doors opened,” Carter said.
Meanwhile, six donated horses find contentment in the attention of their riders.
Carter’s daughter, Lindsey, 13, enjoys mentoring the younger riders. “We can relate to children with some of their painful experiences. If they have gone through hard times, we can help them.”
The no-profit ministry makes a visible difference in children, Vandermolen said. “They leave with smiles and giggles, and parents say they notice their children have more confidence.”
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