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From Tragedy to Triumph: Sunrise Therapeutic

by Chris Daponte

PUSLINCH TWP. - “You sound British,” 10-year-old Julian says with certainty from the saddle atop a horse at the Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre.

“Well, that’s a very good observation,” Ann Caine, the centre’s executive director, replies with a smile.

“I’m Canadian,” Julian declares proudly, displaying a wide grin of his own.

“So am I,” Caine explains. “I just have a British accent.”

The exchange is but a fleeting moment in an ordinary day last week. But it’s the type of light-hearted interaction, regardless of its brevity, that keeps Caine motivated almost 30 years after founding the centre, which caters to those with physical and developmental disabilities.

The idea is to provide physical, psychological and social benefits through a combination of therapy, recreation and animal care programs. Those benefits can include increased strength and flexibility, improved balance, mobilizing the trunk and pelvis, improved learning skills and concentration, access to social integration, a sense of achievement and independence, and increased self-esteem and self-confidence.

“It’s medically supervised, but they’re having fun while doing it,” Caine said. “It’s just an amazing therapy. We see little miracles every day.”

Julian’s mother, Charlene, can testify to that.

“It’s been really positive for  Julian to come here. It’s been fantastic,” Charlene said. “He really enjoys the riding. It has been really good for his confidence and self esteem.

“And it’s fantastic exercise ... but for him, it’s just fun.”

Such testimonials are the norm for families at Sunrise. The centre has made such a difference, for both children and adults, that Caine was recognized last month as one of 13 recipients of the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship.

Created in 1973 - ironically, the same year Caine and her family came to Canada from England - the medal recognizes those who have made “exceptional long-term contributions to the quality of life in the province.”

The medals were presented to the winners - chosen from over 220 nominations and 176 finalists - by Lieutenant Governor David Onley on Nov. 23 at Queen’s Park.

“This group of outstanding Ontarians has positively changed the lives of many people in their communities,” Onley said of the winners.

Eric Hoskins, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, added, “They inspire us to make a difference in the lives of our neighbours and to work for the betterment of our communities and our world.”

The citation on Caine’s award stated she “has endless energy and stamina” and is “a citizen who is always mindful of, and concerned for, the forgotten of society.”

Caine was joined at the ceremony by two of her four children and two of her 11 grandchildren.

“They were very pleased and proud, I guess,” she said humbly. She was shocked to learn the Rotary Club of Guelph South, of which she is a member, had nominated her.

“I was blown away,” she said. “When you do something you enjoy doing, you don’t expect to get awarded for it.”

Over the years the Sunrise centre has helped around 5,000 individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, Caine estimates.

About 100 volunteers per week help out at the 102-acre property on Concession 1 in Puslinch Township, incorporating the unique healing and therapeutic  qualities of 25 horses, four miniature horses, one donkey, two mini donkeys, two alpacas and several friendly barn cats.

The centre also incorporates a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and speech/language therapist as consultants, and recently received an Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grant to hire a child and youth recreation and camp coordinator for three years.

“People can see the results, but they don’t realize all the hard work and toil that went into this place,” Caine said. “When I look back on it now, it’s amazing all the work that we’ve done.”

Indeed, this is not a story of overnight success. And it is one with a bittersweet beginning.

Caine’s husband, Christopher, passed away in 1977 at age 39, leaving her and four kids (a daughter and three sons) on their own. A pediatric and emergency room nurse by trade, Caine had dabbled in therapeutic riding in her native England, but it was not until after the death of her husband she fully realized the effectiveness of that work.

“Our ponies helped the kids through the incredibly traumatic  loss of their dad,” Caine recalled.

That realization eventually led Caine to come up with the idea for a centre in the Wellington County area. She contacted her doctor and friend, Jim McLachlan, about the idea.

“I just know what wonderful things animals can do for children,” she told him. McLachlan came on board (he served as the first president of the executive committee) and things grew from there - albeit very slowly.

“It was hard,” Caine said of the early beginnings, when the organization had five riders and three horses.

For 14 years sunrise operated seasonally and moved  four times. In 1990 it offered its first integrated summer camp, although it was still without a permanent home with an indoor arena.

“It got to the point everybody said we really need to have our own facility because the demand was so high,” Caine explained. “I don’t know how we ever managed without an indoor arena, but we were very tenacious and kept going.”

She joined with other organizers to start a capital campaign and worked hard to find a suitable, permanent home. The Concession 1 property, located not far from the original Sunrise farm on Victoria Road in Puslinch, was appealing due to its indoor facility, proximity to Guelph and Cambridge and its link between barn and arena.

“When we came here, of course, everything changed,” she said. “There was a sense of ownership when everyone came here.”

But the property was far from complete. From 1996 to 2000, thanks to generous funding from local individuals and the  OTF, Sunrise officials made extensive upgrades to improve accessibility.

In 2001 a drive shed was renovated, allowing staff to move out of a dark basement with no windows and into a new office space. The shed also houses a children’s activity room.

Also in 2001, Sunrise established its therapeutic riding instructor training program, which now trains individuals from across Canada and all over the world.

In 2006, the centre launched the “building Brighter Futures” development campaign, which provided a swimming pool, farm discovery centre, an accessible playground, a pavilion, expanded tack room and a new accessible washroom.

Much of the regular work on the site is carried out by volunteers.

“There’s always a job they can do,” Caine said, adding the centre is always welcoming new helpers. “We really value our volunteers.”

With limited financial resources, those individuals are what make Sunrise such a success. Despite grants for specific projects (particularly from the OTF), Caine explained, the centre receives no regular funding from the provincial or federal governments.

“We really do live from hand to mouth,” she said.

The centre relies on donations from local individuals, organizations, businesses and service clubs. Sunrise hosts two large fundraisers every June and September (this year’s “Hoof Beat Challenge” in September raised $22,000).

“You get surprises a lot of the time, which is really nice,” Caine said, noting the centre often gets donations from young children, including some who on their birthdays ask for donations to Sunrise instead of gifts.

But not all of the surprises are good ones.

Recently, an unidentified Grinch arrived about a month early to steal an emergency generator from the Sunrise centre. Caine said the unit, which was barely used and will cost $4,000 to replace, was not out in the open and would have taken two people to lift.

“[Stealing] from a charity - that’s a bit much,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”

Now officials have to divert valuable fundraising efforts towards purchasing a new generator. But such disappointments seemingly do little to diminish Caine’s resolve to keep the centre open.

“I have a passion for working with children,” she said, adding the location of the centre is perfect. “It’s a good township. It’s very active.”

Perhaps no one more so than Caine and the rest of her team at the Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre.

* * *

The centre always welcomes financial donations, which can be made online through canadahelps.org or by visiting www.sunrise-therapeutic.ca and clicking on the Canada Helps icon.

In an effort to raise even more money, the centre is accepting old newspapers, books (without hard cover), magazines, telephone books and other recyclable paper. It is also accepting Zehrs tapes and Canadian Tire money, and is offering metal recycling.

For more information visit sunrise-therapeutic.ca, email info@sunrise-therapeutic.ca or call 519-837-0558.

 

 

Vol 43 Issue 50

 
 

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