hen Bonnie Rachael opened Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center seven years ago, she said she envisioned it being "a place the community builds together."
That dream has been realized over the years as churches, Eagle Scouts and other volunteers have helped build the center’s infrastructure. Faith Equestrian’s client base has grown along with that and now provides therapeutic horseback riding to 50-60 people with special needs a year, according to Rachael.
But even she couldn’t believe her eyes at all the work Gulfstream Aerospace employees accomplished in just two days.
"It’s the hand of God," Rachael marveled. "I pray a lot, and it is a miracle. It’s a wonderful miracle for us. It means more than I can put words to."
About 100 Gulfstream employees spent Saturday renovating Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center. More than 40 had volunteered the day before to conduct the prep work for Saturday’s big work day.
"This is so amazing," Rachael said. "It would take me 10 years to do what they’re doing in two days."
Gulfstream Aerospace’s product support organization selected Faith Equestrian Center as this year’s recipient for its employee appreciation volunteer project. The group’s first volunteer project was to build a playground last year at the Kicklighter Resource Center, a facility in Savannah that helps people with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.
The product support organization went further this year and renovated an entire facility. United Way HandsOn Savannah took nominations for community projects and passed them on to Gulfstream, and Faith Equestrian went to the top of the list.
"It was just a great choice for us," said Tim Steinhauser, director of customer relations for Gulfstream. "We liked that there were children and veterans and horses and it was Effingham County, because so many of our employees live in Effingham County, so we thought the project was perfect for us."
The project included replacing old fencing with new, sturdier wooden fencing, and spreading two million pounds of dirt throughout the facility. FETC’s education center received a facelift, with new furniture and educational supplies and fresh paint on the inside and outside.
Gulfstream also partnered with local contractors to donate labor prior to last weekend. The biggest addition to Faith Equestrian was a 700-foot concrete walkway extending from the wheelchair ramp at the entrance all the way to the horse-mounting ramp at the stables, making the center much easier for someone in a wheelchair to traverse.
"The way I look at anybody who has a special challenge is, they don’t want to be pampered; they want to be like you and me," Rachael said. "Give them what they can have to get that independence."
Prior to last year, Steinhauser said, the approximately 2,000 employees in Gulfstream’s product support organization would receive an annual appreciation gift such as a coffee mug, backpack or cooler. However, the recipients decided the money could be better spent elsewhere.
"Everybody just realized, ‘We have enough coolers. We have enough stuff. So why don’t we do something with the money instead?’" Steinhauser said. "It’s rewarding because Bonnie is out here with a labor of love, so it helps us really get back into the community and
The therapeutic riding and accompanying educational activities at Faith Equestrian are designed to stimulate the body and the mind. The majority of participants are children.
FETC is reaching out to local senior centers as well, in hopes of scheduling a monthly "day on the farm," Rachael said. Even if some of the seniors are unable to ride a horse, they could groom a horse or simply enjoy the fellowship.
"Is that not cool?" Racheal said. "It’s going to be a place for young and old alike who have special challenges."