OPINION: Sunrise – Embracing Diversity

PUSLINCH – The staff and volunteers at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and  Learning Centre have had the privilege of working with children and adults with disabilities from Guelph, Wellington County and beyond, for close to 40 years.

Many people think of riding horses when they hear about Sunrise, but what happens on this 102 acre farm in Puslinch Township reaches far beyond that. The  summer day camps (5 to teenage), Little Breeches (4 to 7 year olds) and Mini Moments (8 to 12 year olds) are all inclusive programs, providing wonderful opportunities for young children and teens with and without disabilities to socialize, laying a solid foundation for their future lives in an adult community.

In addition, the therapeutic riding program (from 3 years to adult) and the Day Life Skills program (21 years and up) focus on a vulnerable demographic of children and adults who need our support.

Cognitive development often means that the majority of our adult clients are children in an adult body.

These adults need to be heard.  Hearing is one thing, but listening is a completely different  exercise, and this is essential when guiding the vulnerable in our community to a fulfilling lifestyle.

This newspaper recently carried a great editorial — Dignity for All. “One size” definitely does not fit all.

An inclusive community that recognizes the need for that dignity and  diversity of structure, ensuring  success for those with developmental delay, is a thriving community.

Welcome to the Sunrise Day Program, where just before 9am on three mornings a week, adults with developmental delay arrive at the Sunrise  farmhouse in Puslinch Township, (just 15 minutes from the Guelph ‘Y’), eager to join their companions, staff  and volunteers for a day on the farm.

This is a diverse group  working together towards common goals. Many different activities are available, but due to team discussions, and by listening to their collective input, each day‘s schedule is structured and has a routine and predictability.

We believe that this is the cornerstone of a successful life skills program, but it certainly does not negate the spontaneity that can often arise as a team member’s new idea engages everyone’s attention, or an unexpected farm event occurs.

The horses, and especially the miniatures, can sometimes throw a curve in the day’s routine, which our participants adjust to quickly,   emphasizing the positive animal husbandry skills they are learning daily. This also produces much laughter and fun during each day together.

On any day in the life skills program a wide range of activities are embraced such as animal care, horticulture, drumming circle, team building on the low ropes course, or on the ground with the horses in the arena, and art projects, to name a few.

Learning to measure feed for horses and following the feed chart is a transferable skill. Growing seeds during the winter months under grow lights, planting out in the raised beds in the spring, watering, weeding and eventually harvesting  the vegetables and flowers, is a real source of pride for our life skills participants.

Harvesting carrots to feed the horses is a high point. In addition, produce can be shared with family and friends and camp parents give donations to the life skills program in return for fresh produce and flowers. The Sunrise participants who did all the work, count the donations received and collectively decide how this money will be spent in support of their program activities.

Sadly, the pandemic shut down our programs for many months, but recently some activities have resumed with greatly reduced numbers,  strict protocols and observing social distancing.

On the farm we have the advantage of wide open spaces and for our life skills participants, who have found the huge change in their routine so hard to comprehend. There is nothing that can adequately express how delighted they are to be back together again.

Sunrise  strives for excellence and embraces innovation in our programming; understanding and respecting the needs and aspirations of the people we serve.

We encourage and support participants by providing a positive and diverse environment, and listening with empathy to their needs through the different stages of their lives .

For further information visit the Sunrise website at www.sunrise-therapeutic.ca.

– Submitted by Ann Caine, Sunrise board president