Friday, May 04, 2007

Boys Haven training foster youth to succeed in the KY horse industry

Boys' Haven turns to horses
Equine program will aid clients
Smith, Peter. Louisville Courier-Journal, May 1, 2007, pg. B1.

While some are preparing a garland of roses for a Kentucky Derby winner this week, a small group is preparing a home for other horses they hope will bring more lasting benefits for needy youths and young adults.

Boys' Haven, which operates programs to help abused, homeless and struggling youths, is building a barn on its campus, located near Bardstown Road and the Watterson Expressway .

A grand opening is scheduled for Monday.

The barn, with a capacity of 12 horses, will be used to train Boys' Haven clients how to take care of horses, and eventually the group also hopes to bring in horses that can be used for therapy for disabled and traumatized children.

"There are a lot of kids who have been in foster care and residential care," said Jay Wilkinson, manager of the new equine program at Boys' Haven. "When they leave the state (system), they really don't have the employment skills to handle a job. They end up on the streets, in need of services."

He said the Kentucky horse industry has "a very ample supply of entry-level positions, with benefits," with the ability to advance.

Joshua Adams, 26, a former Boys' Haven resident, is helping to build the barn and plans to be in the first class.

"I've learned a lot just through building the barn," Adams said. "...We've been working pretty much seven days a week, trying to meet this deadline" for the grand opening.

Adams added that he knows nothing about horse care but wants to learn.

"I'd like to be able to just be involved in the trade, maybe eventually one day have my own horses," he said.

Boys' Haven has a dozen students — all adults — lined up for its first six-month training program, Wilkinson said. They will take care of three thoroughbreds and two standard bred horses — including getting them ready for races. They will also visit horse farms for their training.

In addition, the agency eventually hopes to house retired horses that could be used in an "equine therapy" program in which children with disabilities can ride and care for the animals.

"It works very well with kids with disabilities, both mental and physical, especially autistic kids," Wilkinson said.

"When they can take a horse ... and they can walk it, they bond with that horse" and develop self-esteem," he said.

The total cost for the barn is $55,000 in materials, with staff, students and volunteers providing the labor, said Vern Rickert, executive director.

"It's a very important project for us," he said.

"I'm surprised at how many other people are excited about it. It's just really caught hold in terms of interest in the general public."

According to Boys' Haven, major contributors and volunteers include the Al and Guy Campisano Family Trust, Doug and Susan Byars, C & I Engineering, Courier-Journal employees, Community Foundation of Louisville, Joseph Elmore, the Kentucky Equine Education Project, Kentucky Foster Youth Transition Assistance and Nicholas X. Simon.


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