TEWKSBURY, Mass. (AP) — Eight years ago, Jane Kirby began riding at Strongwater Farm. At 9 years old, she was riding recreationally at a place she would soon dedicate endless hours of her time to.
Four years later, Jane’s love to horses inspired her to volunteer at the farm every weekend. The 17-year-old does everything from feeding to grooming to prepping horses for their lessons with clients.
“It’s a really peaceful place and most of what I’ve learned about horses has been from Strongwater,” Jane said. “I’m grateful because I really like working with animals.”
The nonprofit, located at 500 Livingston St., offers a variety of therapeutic services and programs for people who come from all walks of life. There are programs for children, veterans, those battling substance use issues, those diagnosed with autism and more.
“It’s really a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of new people, interesting people, I wouldn’t have met anywhere else,” Jane said.
When Strongwater’s Director of Operations Patti Lessard first met Jane as a young teen, she saw enormous potential. After she began working with Jane, she asked her to be her lead volunteer, mainly working on Saturday mornings. Lessard said it is a rare occurrence that Jane won’t be at Strongwater on a Saturday for hours.
“She’s been so dedicated here,” Lessard said. “It’s rare that you find somebody that young who gives all her time and effort. She even takes her work from school and studies during down time.”
Jane has been learning to set up foods and medicines for the horses. Lessard said she also will exercise the horses if they need to stretch before a lesson. Jane said she especially spends time with and rides Trial and Acadia, two of the 12 horses on the farm.
“Patti is a very nice person and she’s very smart about what she does. I’ve been looking up to her for a while,” Jane said. “She’s very good about thanking the volunteers, too. It’s nice to be appreciated. It doesn’t make it hard to come back.”
Jane said growing up seeing her older sister consistently volunteering for places like soup kitchens, was also played a role in inspiring her to do the work she does today.
Lessard said Strongwater has about 350 volunteers who dedicate their time to the farm. She said that Strongwater does not want to have its volunteers to become stagnant, rather, they want to encourage growth.
“We want to see you progress and make a difference wherever you want to. You just have to let us know where your desire for Strongwater is and we’ll be happy to help you get there,” she said. “We are so grateful. We cannot run this operation without our volunteers. They are vital to our program. People like Jane, they become an extension of the instructors.”
Jane is considering a career that involves working with people with disabilities as well as animals in a veterinary care or instruction environment.
“She just has that quiet, calm, confidence about her, which is vital out here,” Lessard said. “Because she’s so quiet and gentle — but firm when she has to be — it keeps the horses in a quiet and calm place.”
Lessard said Jane’s work puts both her and the instructors at ease, knowing that they can trust her with certain areas of care and training.
“Her work ethic is just so strong, her professionalism, her dedication, just far exceeds any young person I’ve ever met,” she said.
Strongwater also has an internship program, where high school and college students can learn about the various skills required to run the farm from instructors, as well as volunteers, like Jane.
“Jane is a rare bird. She’s a diamond in the rough, that one,” Lessard said. “It would be my hope to one day have her on here as an employee.”
Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, http://www.lowellsun.com