Today we’d like to introduce you to Ellie Grant.
Ellie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I always loved horses. I grew up in Delaware riding them and for the last 22 years, have been helping to provide hope and healing through the human-horse connection at Equest. I was first introduced to Equest in 1997 through the Junior League of Dallas. I was required to perform 60 hours of services over a year, but I ended up donating 600 hours, and the second and third years, 1,000 hours. Besides the horses, I loved the sunshine, exercise, getting to wear jeans, and more importantly, I loved working with the amazing and inspiring clients.
As my volunteer hours increased year after year, so did my role at Equest. I co-founded the Horsepitality Committee, a “beauty salon” for the therapy horses to prepare them for classes and shows by bathing, grooming, and clipping their mane and hair. I was named Junior League Project Chair, an ex-officio board member position. After my term ended, I was invited to become an official member of Equest’s Board of Directors. In 2004, a volunteer coordinator position was available at Equest. I interviewed, was offered the position, quit my job as an attorney, and started working full-time at Equest. It was my calling, and I never looked back.
Today, I am proud to say that Equest partners with over 700 volunteers that provide over 30,000 hours of direct program service opportunities each year. I am so grateful for all of the volunteers that have made it possible for every client to have their therapeutic horsemanship class or therapy treatment session during my tenure.
Has it been a smooth road?
I’ve been in the role of director of volunteer services at Equest for 16 years now, and the biggest change is modern life. There are so many demands on people’s time. Everyone is extremely busy and over-extended. Taking time to volunteer is almost a luxury. Also, traffic can be difficult for classes that are in the evening during rush hour, especially when we ask volunteers to arrive an hour before a class that is supposed to start at 5, 6, or 7 p.m.
Five years ago, Equest moved its facility from Wylie to Texas Horse Park in Southern Dallas. I had spent 15 years building up my network of relationships in Wylie and even moved my family to Wylie, so the move to Dallas was tough. Although the people of Dallas have been incredibly nice and generous, it takes time to re-build our network of volunteers and partners.
Without our volunteers, Equest would not be able to provide classes for our clients, host or participate in events, visit schools and libraries, nor do any of the additional equine-assisted programs and activities that enhance the quality of life for children and adults with diverse needs. As Equest constantly has these events and classes throughout the weekdays, nights, and weekends – I make myself available to manage last-minute absences, scheduling conflicts, weather disruptions, etc. I am proud to say that under my watch, we’ve never had to cancel a class because we didn’t have volunteers.
Tell us more about the business.
Equest provides equine facilitated activities, therapies, and counseling to children and adults with physical, cognitive, sensory, coping, social, and learning disabilities and veterans with adjustment challenges. As the director of volunteer services, my main job is communication, which takes numerous forms. As with many non-profits, we wear a lot of hats and jump in when needed, but my main responsibilities include:
Scheduling orientation and training six times a year for about 75 people each time, plus make-up classes
Event staffing for the 50+ events per year, from galas and fundraisers to Mini Horse Ambassador outreach at school, libraries, and news stations
Volunteer retention through leadership advancement, rewards, celebrations, a personal touch, and responding to their needs. We “partner” with our volunteers and consider them family.
Equest offers a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups. No prior horse experience is required, as we teach it all! Volunteer opportunities include:
Helping during a class as a leader or side walker
Helping in the barn, maintaining cleanliness, orderliness, and functionality
Helping with events including preparation, execution, and break-down
Helping in the office, such as database entry, research, and compiling mailing lists
Helping as a handyman or handywoman, repairing fences, hammering, plumbing, and electrical
Helping assist the Mini Horse Ambassadors, visiting schools and libraries
When it comes to volunteering, we never say “no” to anyone (unless they fail the background check). There are youth volunteer programs for those starting at age 12 to help in the barn, and at age 14 for helping in classes. Younger children can volunteer with parental supervision, and we’ll create special projects designed for them. At Equest, we try to promote the spirit of volunteerism in everyone!
I am amazed and humbled every day by the people and the therapy horses that I work with and how effective the programs are. The staff members are incredibly accomplished and experienced, and Equest is even home to three of the world’s 40 PATH Intl. Master Instructors. Our 30 therapy horses change lives daily. Everything we do, we do with such heart and empathy, and our volunteers are at the forefront, hands-on, helping to create these powerful experiences. We couldn’t do it without our volunteers. Equest changed my life. If you come in with an open heart and willingness to work, it will change your life, too.
Contact me directly to volunteer – firstname.lastname@example.org / 972.412.1099 ext. 211.
Pricing: The only cost to volunteer at Equest is $10 for the background check.
Address: 811 Pemberton Hill Road, Building 4, Dallas, Texas 75217
This article originally appeared in Voyage Dallas on October 2, 2019.