On Friday, October 14, 2016, more than a dozen deputies from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office joined forces with a group of young people from Alternative House to take part in a series of equine-assisted learning activities at Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program’s farm in Clifton, VA.
“With the attention around conflict between minorities and law enforcement, we thought NVTRP could have a role in bridging that gap, using horses to help individuals find common ground. NVTRP pitched the idea to our long-standing partner, Alternative House, and the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office and they were both immediately on board,” said Executive Director Kelsey Gallagher. “We take Ghandi’s saying ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ to heart and our small nonprofit works to make a real difference in our community.”
As part of its after-school program, Alternative House wrapped up a six-week session at NVTRP with the opportunity to teach the deputies what they had learned about horsemanship.
Led by a mental health professional and a team of equine specialists, the group worked together to learn horse safety and team building exercises, highlighted by students leading a blindfolded deputy and their horse through an obstacle course which they designed.
“We serve underserved, at-risk youth in low income areas in Northern Virginia (Falls Church, Springfield and Annandale). These kids are subject to seeing violence, so we are so grateful for having a chance to be in this environment (at NVTRP) where they are close to nature, interacting with a beautiful horse and learning life lessons,” said Nandred Navarro, Director of Community Based Services at Alternative House. “This new initiative of coming together with the deputies from the sheriff’s office is like the icing on the cake. It’s invaluable to teaching them to trust authority, a relationship that has been tarnished by recent (national) events.”
NVTRP is hoping to expand on this program in 2017.
“When NVTRP reached out to us, (Fairfax County) Sheriff Stacey Kincaid immediately said this is something we need to look into and when we met and heard the concept of the program, I knew this was something we definitely needed to be involved with,” said Second Lieutenant Emily Fary. “It gave our deputies a great chance to get out with members of our community and just to see the faces of those children… This is a chance for them to be empowered. You could see it in their faces; the smiles knowing they accomplished something. It warmed the hearts of the deputies to see that in them. It’s definitely a good feeling to know that you touched a life in a positive way that maybe they have never experienced with law enforcement before.”
As one young girl mentioned as she was leaving, “I always thought police officers were mean and scary. But once you get to know them, they are really friendly.”
About Alternative House: Alternative House programs work to keep young people safe and provide positive options to help them reach their full potential. Founded in 1972 as a shelter for runaway youth, Alternative House still provides this core service. However, as times have changed, Alternative House has grown to help children, youth and families meet new challenges. Community-Based Youth Services, Assisting Young Mothers program, Homeless Youth Initiative, and 24-Hour Crisis Hotline all further the mission of Alternative House to transform the lives of at-risk children, youth and their families in our changing community.