Photo Courtesy of Samantha Shipley
The Pepperdine Volunteer Center will send students to volunteer with Experience Learning Support with Animals (ELSA), a local nonprofit organization designed to serve people with disabilities, this coming Tuesday.
Since partnering with ELSA last semester, the PVC has offered students the opportunity to serve with the organization several times, most recently Tuesday.
Aimed primarily at reaching young adults, ages 18 to 22, with autism and other special needs through equine activities, ELSA promotes the emotional and physical benefits of the human-animal bond, such as relaxation, excitement and the promotion of “self-awareness, confidence, communication and learning,” according to ELSA’s website.
“In the ranch setting, we give them things [so] that they can feel empowered and open up their boundaries to things they otherwise would never be exposed to,” Founder and Executive Director of ELSA Susan Carr said.
ELSA created four signature programs that teach sensory awareness, social skills, empowerment and other abilities that come from working with horses, Carr said. ELSA’s four major programs are the ranch skills program, the ranch field trip series, the ranch fun day and therapeutic riding.
The ranch skills program is a weekly program designed to master the skills of the ranch routine, understand nonverbal cues, learn to be flexible and part of a team, and overcome several personal challenges, enabling the participants to develop potential job skills and independence.
“I have really enjoyed working with this program,” PVC Health and Wellness Coordinator Samantha Shipley wrote in an email. “I believe their ranch skills program is a unique approach to helping teens and young adults with special needs through horse keeping and handling.”
The ranch field trip series is designed to cater to the special needs department of a public school, which will then give students the opportunity to get out of their traditional classroom setting and provide an opportunity to enjoy a new and different environment for them, Carr said.
The ranch fun-day is typically once a month at a large ranch, where there is generally a pasture with horses, sheep and other ranch animals. This day is dedicated to families who have a member with special needs so they can have a sense of what the students do at ELSA on a weekly basis.
Carr said the ELSA staff is trained to work with horses on the ground, and Carr is certified to do therapeutic riding instruction.
Therapeutic riding is an activity with the purpose to help with posture, motor skills and motivation, according to Carr. This program is open to the public and teaches people how to ride a horse.
“I have personally seen the equine activities benefit students with special needs in the short time I have volunteered with ELSA,” Shipley wrote. “It is amazing to watch students grow week to week and then help their classmates. You start to see the development of leadership skills in many students.”
If you would like to volunteer with ELSA, register with Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PVC provides transportation to the first nine people. Meet in Rho at 10:15 a.m. on Feb. 9.
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