NORTH BENNINGTON -- Kimberly Farms held Gallup to Success' inaugural Family Fun Day on Saturday, bringing the youth and families it serves together for social activities.
In their time operating the 18-horse stable farm, John and Valerie Shemath have worked with many children and teenagers who come from a variety of troubled backgrounds. Since establishing a board of directors for Gallup For Success and filing a 501(c)3 in January to officially become a nonprofit organization, the Shemaths have been able to expand the opportunities available to those at-risk youth, ages 7 to 17.
Gallup to Success helps kids to gain confidence, self-esteem and to learn leadership skills by giving them a farm experience, combining enjoyment and responsibility.
Kimberly Farms is offering a pastime that is usually reserved for affluent families, to at-risk youth who might not otherwise have that access. The farm gives them an outlet to gain a new set of values and skills.
Kimberly Farms is a working farm that offers horseback riding lessons, a year-round program and summer program. At-risk youth are integrated into those very same commercial offerings so they are not cast out, but treated the same as mainstream children and teenagers.
"The response has been great," said Laura Devlin about Gallup to Success, board member and cousin to Valerie Shemath. "Everyone has been very excited about it and the response from the community has been fabulous.
Gallup to Success started serving at-risk youth this year through the use of a scholarship program. Youth are referred to the farm by social workers or health services counselors. If once a child visits the farm and decides to commit to the responsibility of caring for a horse, they are eligible for an award from the Buster Brown Scholarship Fund.
Since becoming a registered nonprofit charity, the program has been eligible for grant money and social program dollars. The board of directors is working on writing a few grants for next season, all of which will contribute to the scholarship fund.
"What's really exciting about this mission is the tangible benefit in the kids' lives," Devlin said. "The ones that participate with the scholarship -- They come out of here with self confidence, courage and leadership. A lot of them are struggling with very difficult situations, so this acts as a safe haven for them."
Board member Kristin Smith said horses are very spiritually powerful animals; That the kids and the horses seem to bond with one another.
"This is very unique," Smith said. "Theres are a lot of therapeutic horse foundations, more geared for medical purposes. This serves a niche, as an early intervention for youth, to any social or job issues later in life."
Many of the youth the program serves suffer from autism or other disorders. Others have undergone anything from minor trauma to experiences such as physical or sexual abuse. Valerie Shemath said there have been so many successful cases in which kids have altered their personalities and confidence for the better.
"In the third phase of the program, the kids are expected to do the jobs of adults," Shemath said. "They help lead horses and clean horse stables with minor supervision. But, they do the job of an adult, and they are expected to do the job as an adult."
To find more information about the farm, 1214 Cross Hill Rd., or Gallup to success, visit http://www.kimberlyfarms.org/. The Shemaths offer programs and lessons to people of any age. Bob Shemath said horses can be therapeutic for anyone.
"When these youth leave here, they have not only a more rounded education, but a whole new perspective on horses," Bob Shemath said. "Many will come back year after year."
The Family Fun Day was an event the Shemaths hope will return every year to invite those at-risk youth back, and give them and their families a social and active outlet for a day.
The event was held for those involved with Gallup to Success, but friends, family and neighbors were also invited to purchase tickets. Proceeds from ticket sales also funded the scholarship.
In addition to a farm tour and lunch, the day's activities included pictures on a chroma key wall, pony rides, face painting, a silent auction and entertainment by the Hale Mountain Pickers, a local celtic and modern bluegrass band.
The Mount Laurel Foundation is a title sponsor for Gallup to Success and Family Fun Day. Support also came in the form of silent auction donations from Orbis, Magic Mountain, Bond Auto Parts, the Martha Stevenson Gallery, Tea Forte, Wild Designs in Portland, Maine, and the Norman Rockwell House.
Food donations and catering volunteers for lunch included the Blue Benn Diner, the Publyk House, Mighty Food Farm, Bennington Station, True Love Farm, Price Chopper and more.
Find Gallup to Success on Facebook, or submit donations to the scholarship fund at http://www.gofundme.com/sendkidstokimberlyfarms
Contact Tom Momberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg