HARTH in need of volunteers, sponsors

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Savanna Gregg/Burnet Bulletin
The HARTH Foundation, which focuses on Healing and Recovery Through Horses, is in need of more volunteers to act as side walkers and horse handlers, and those who are interested in the opportunity are asked to contact Julie Biggs at 512-525-7774 or julieb@harthtx.org for more information.





By Savanna Gregg

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

At the end of a winding county road in western Burnet County lies a relaxing atmosphere which individuals with special needs are welcome to visit to learn more about their emotions, motor skills, and relationships with themselves and others through the healing power of horses.

The HARTH Foundation, which focuses on Healing and Recovery Through Horses, was founded by owner Sherry Atherton and uses Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) programs to assist individuals with special needs, whether mental or physical, from children to adults, civilians to veterans.

“I believe strongly in the healing power of horses,” Atherton said.

Atherton started HARTH to assist veterans returning home from overseas with mental and physical trauma, because she recognized their great sacrifice, as someone looking in from another point of view, coming to the United States from Canada and becoming a citizen nearly 20 years ago.

“People don't get what the military does for this country, and I have a passion for those who commit,” Atherton said. “They don't know what is going to happen to them after; they do what they are told to do, and then there just aren't enough places for them to go when they come back, so that was important to me.”

Atherton's plan to help veterans evolved into a greater goal to help more individuals with other special needs, and she said the two go hand in hand.

“They overlap of course,” Atherton said. “We have a lot of veterans that also volunteer; it is their therapy, but they are also helping other folks, so it is cool to see how that works.”

Along with powerful horses, HARTH utilizes the expertise and passion of PATH-certified therapists, who are extensively trained by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. PATH-certified therapists are trained to serve individuals with developmental delays, learning disabilities, amputations, hearing impairments, substance abuse issues, visual impairment, and many more special needs.

“PATH is the one to certify both centers and instructors in this field,” Atherton said. “It is focused on ethics, safety, and ensures the instructors and everybody are being properly trained.”

HARTH has one certified therapist, Julie Biggs, working at the center, and two others, Lori Greco and Jereny Johnson, are working towards their certifications.

“Julie has been doing this for a long time, and she is very passionate about it which makes her fantastic at this,” Atherton said.

Greco retired from the United States Army in 2011 after 27 years of active duty and 10 years as an endurance rider, and knows firsthand the effects horses have on their human counterparts. A few years after retiring, she discovered HARTH and soon became the one in charge of its veteran program.

Upon receiving her PATH certifications, Greco plans to enhance the center’s veteran assistance program with HARTH’s new Service For Heroes program, which will be geared towards assisting wounded warriors and veterans with mental health issues or traumatic brain injuries received from combat.

The only equine-assisted therapeutic facility in Burnet and Llano Counties, HARTH takes pride in their certified members and those working toward it.

“The need is huge, and there is a science behind it,” Atherton said. “We want to do what we can.”

Recognizing that some families have financial disabilities, HARTH offers Helping Hands, a scholarship program which assists families in paying for the extensive therapy sessions.

“There are a lot of low income families in the area, or families with special needs children who have a lot of additional expenses,” Atherton said. “That is why we started the Helping Hands program. We do not want to ever have to turn away a family because of their inability to pay.”

To lend a hand to the Helping Hands program, HARTH is asking for sponsorships from local businesses and individuals to ensure the center is able to continue providing financial assistance for its families.

“We need sponsorships because we need to be able to help people and expand this program and fund it,” Atherton said.

Another growing need at the center is that for volunteers, and Atherton is asking those with extra time on their hands, or the need to help others, to consider helping out the staff at HARTH.

Sherry and her staff are looking for sidewalkers and horse handlers, and individuals do not need experience to join the team.

“Volunteers are how we make this stuff work,” Atherton said. “You don't have to have horse experience; volunteers start as horse handlers and we give training the second Thursday of every month.”

Volunteers also clean the common areas of the barn, grooming stalls, and buckets, and replace the shavings in the stalls.

“We are growing like crazy and it is hard to have enough volunteers to keep up,” Atherton said. “It is a very rewarding way to give back, to volunteer, because these are our kids and our adults and they need your help.”

HARTH is located on the shores of Lake Buchanan at 3307 Sunset Cliff Road, Burnet. More information about the programs offered at the center can be found at harthtx.org.

Those who are interested in sponsoring the Helping Hands program at HARTH are asked to visit their website, harthtx.org, or call the center at 512-656-7698 for more information.

Individuals interested in volunteering at HARTH may contact Julie Biggs at 512-525-7774 or julieb@harthtx.org.

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