Whispers of Hope is a place that dedicates its time to helping children--and this is no ordinary camp. The non profit helps challenged children overcome obstacles they may face.
The volunteers are one of a kind with some of the biggest hearts ever, and that includes the woman who started it all, Mary Elizabeth.
From the road it may look like a piece of land with just a few horses and a barn. It's a true horse farm with boots, an arena with red dirt and horses.
On a typical day, you'll see people outside the barn tending horses, and children saddled up to ride, but as you walk down the gravel path to Whispers of Hope you will find so much more.
Mary Elizabeth Pearce is the founder and executive director of Whispers of Hope. She started the horse farm 10 years ago. Running a horse farm was never in her plans, but she was inspired by a higher calling.
Pearce said, "I was an H.R. for many years for a manufacturing plant and different areas and god decided to pull on my strings and tell me I need to do something different. So I gave up that life to be a missionary for god, and provide a place for children to come and learn about horses, for challenged children to come and to be the best. They come and they play games do arts and crafts and ride their favorite horse and have a a good time. It is also part of therapy because we talk through modes. We have where they work on the mobility to sit up straight, be tall in the saddle and laugh and have a good time."
All children are welcome to Whispers of Hope, but there is a special focus on challenged children.
"When I was training for missionary school in atlanta georgia, we went to a farm that was a therapeutic riding facility, but it was for mental patients only and they were all adult type facilities and the cost was astronomical. And so i really felt compelled that that's what god was calling me to do. And but yet i had a hard time charging for that. And so if god gave me the gift to do this program then i should be able to give it back to kids," Pearce said. "Because one day when their parents are older and not able to take care of them they need a place where, they need to be able to do more for themselves. So we help with the rehab centers and different environments to be able to do that and make them be the best that they can be and have fun doing that."
"You hear a lot about horses and the interaction with challenged children, how do they play a big role in that?" Ashley Fitzwater asked.
"There is no greater joy than watching a horse, and loving, watch a child brush a horse or touch a horse. It's a feeling of calmness, it's a feeling that you just have when you touch a horse you (sighs) you know.... A horse feels your sense of anxiety and all and they will get nervous or whatever. But most of the time with a challenged child if they are anxious and do this..then the horse when they touch them just makes them feel calm and reserved and then the horse is just relaxed and enjoys that too. So they are a great gift," Pearce said.
The therapy has many facets--not only through riding, but through the responsibility and care.
"Brushing is very therapeutic. Not only for the challenged children, but for us as well. Because it keeps calm effectiveness in your life and so children that need that social environment, because we do so many video games and being in the tv. It gets them outdoors getting to be open and learn different things about life," said Pearce.
Pearce said she knew from firsthand experience that horses and children were a good pair. She grew up on the farm and said she always had a connection with horses, at even as young an age as three.
"Always when I would get into trouble or just felt everyone in the world was against me could go out to the pasture and sit and talk to my horse for hours and he never talked back. You know and he never told my secrets, you know?" Pearce said. "So it was an awesome thing, and you could just lay down with them and be very happy, and so that has carried me through most of my life through a lot of things. And so I knew getting that opportunity would be a wonderful thing for these children."
The kids range from five to 20 years old and are on all on different levels, but Pearce said the miraculous part is watching them improve over time.
Pearce said, "We have autistic children that never spoke and couldn't communicate with anyone, and working together with the horse, are talking. Repetitive talking not consistent not go go go, but as in each week repetitive work. Working with them, talking naturally, and then all of the sudden, they get on a horse and tell it to go out of nowhere. And then later they learn to say 'Mom' and 'Dad.' Then we have children that have no social skills, and they don't know how to interact with the others. So you get them in small groups you work with that. The horse gives them the confidence they build confidence being on the horse and being able to control that horse on their own."
"I have been blessed over the years to do so many wonderful things and to meet such wonderful people. I am pretty tough, so it's really hard to love me when I am so tough with them, but I have always tried to--even though I'm tough--to keep them going and moving to always tell every child how much they are loved. How important it is in life for them that I appreciate them and that God loves them. By actions and deeds you can show so much," Pearce said.
Walking through the horse farm, you can't see all of the hard work it has taken to make Whispers of Hope a success for the community.
"We have truly been blessed by many people in this community," Pearce said. "Foundations as well as individuals to grant us funds or to help with sponsorships."
Mission groups come visit each summer to help out, and along the way, blessings are built.
"We have a junior volunteer room that we have been blessed to have, so we can have a place for them to have quiet time, get a break get out of the weather that kind of thing," said Pearce.
Another gift is the ramp, so children in a wheelchair can also ride.
"The horse will go right alongside there, and we have a step stool that stays on this side and then they can go right off the wheelchair right onto the horse," Pearce said.
They also have a hydryolic lift allowing them help those who are unable to move themselves and safely get on the horses to ride.
Almost all of the horses have been donated to the program...a huge help to this non-profit organization.
Pearce said, "Not going to say it's not tight, because more non-profits will tell you there is never really a black moment. You are always looking for something, but it's a wonderful, wonderful gift and we are truly blessed to be able to do that. "
The camp is free to the challenged campers, so most of the income for up-keep comes from other campers who pay a weekly fee.
"This is 'Fools Gold.' He has been my baby a long time," Pearce said, with her horse. "And he is very good with kids, loves attention, and they're practicing saddling and being outside."
But the heart of keeping this horse farm running is the volunteers. Pearce said, "All volunteer staff we have, has been here from the beginning. We have no paid staff here at all. Everyone gives of themselves their time and energy, and love of the children or the horses."
The volunteers, along with Pearce, are the ones who make the connections that change lives.
"This is Sarah. She's been with me since she was 11 years old. She's now going off to college this year. She has 'Busy,' who's a three-year old but works wonderfully with challenged children. He just has a big heart.
Whispers of Hope has 25 horses and uses, Pearce said, "every one of them." Many volunteers at Whispers of Hope aren't even old enough to work.
"We have some 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds that do an awesome job with it, and they have someone watching them and making sure everything is okay," Pearce said. "But it's called dedication. We have several of our volunteers that have been with us for five to six years. Morgan and Stephanie have been with me five to six years. They come here--they are 16 years old now, they started when they were 10. And they know what they need to do. That can be extended leadership. They are not just somebody that's squandering away their time."
"There's a lot of young volunteers here, I mean you're seeing high school age. Talk about these volunteers, they are giving up there summer pretty much to be here and helping is that just amazing?" host Ashley Fitzwater asked.
Pearce said, "That's amazing! It's absolute. Because so many kids in the summer are so ready to get out of school and they just want to sit on the couch. They want to be able to just do nothing but video games or go shopping. Well that's all good and , but to be able to give back to someone to be able to be outside there is a joy in doing that and a reward beyond because you get tired and they work very hard, but it is a great thing to be outside and active it good for their health, mental being and it's good for their personality and for later in life. We are making good leaders for our community for later on and that's what i think is most important."
Pearce also has college students and grown volunteers with families of their own who still come back to help.
"Like this past week--when we got 1500 bales of hay donated from Tommy Henderson in Byers, Texas. That's amazing feed because we had very little hay left and when you have 25 horses, they can eat a lot. And so we had to call back old volunteers who are working now or are in school to come and help us," Pearce said. "And so that's great---to know that those kids who started out at 10, 12 years old and now they are growing up in life, but now they come back to help us when they can."
"I am truly blessed that I have had the opportunity to work with those kids," said Pearce.
The heart of it all and angels in disguise are the volunteers--a group of Texoma youth that Mary Elizabeth couldn't do without.
"I'm pretty tough, I'm pretty strict cause safety comes first around here. And we have certain things you have to do. It's not a lot of play time. There some break time, but not a lot of play time.so these kids come out here ages 10 and above. They dedicate their time to coming to summer camp or being a volunteer. They go through stringent routines of activities. What they have to learn and how to do everything," Pearce said. "And then they are put with a child or they do the feed water clean, until they are able to do that. Cause it takes a lot of concentration. You have to be able to handle a horse and a child on their and talk and listen to me behind you all at the same time. And that takes a lot of skill."
But there are three young ladies who fill the big shoes with grace. Sarah Glasgow is 18 years old. She's been volunteering since she was 10.
"My mom got me signed up out here and at first I wasn't sure about it," Sarah said. "But I was working with the kids and was just like...I mean you help them but it also helps you. If you had a rough day, it's just kind of like a release. It's so awesome to see how far they have come."
Her one on one time is spent with 9-year-old Seth. Seth has made huge strides in their four years together.
"He would cry all of the time and somebody had to sit with him, but now he is on the show team and doing great!" Sarah said. "Used to he would just kind of sit on the horse and now he is like actually turning really big and using his feet as leg commands. And he will vocally tell the horse what to do. He has gone from just sitting on the horse to winning first place at almost all of the horse shows. It's amazing--I can't even explain it! Just something about the horses--just something they've got, I don't know."
What else do you do throughout the day you're out here working with them on the horse, but there are other things involved too correct. We will play games with them on the pavilion or actually show them how to groom the horse. Just spending one on one time like seth and i when we do our lesson he will start out riding but then he has gotten to where he wants me to ride and he will lead me around, so he will try and teach me."
Another leader in the making is 16-year-old Morgan Dresbach, who has also been working at the horse farm since she was 10. Morgan and her friend Stephanie Crosley, who's also 16, found out about Whispers of Hope online.
Stephanie said, "All I knew it that it was summer camp, and they teach us about horses and stuff and I thought hey that would be really cool then I found out about the kids and I was like 'Wow, that's amazing!'"
These teenagers clean stalls, teach lessons......whatever needs to be done
spending more time at the horse farm .....than some spend at work.
Morgan said she's out here "About everyday. In the summer, I am here all day Monday through Friday. Saturday, I am either here or at a show with the horses. Sundays, I come out and feed sometimes so, I'm here Monday thru Fridays and Saturday and sometimes on Sunday, if she needs me."
And when you ask them why they do it, their answer is much like the reason Pearce opened Whispers of Hope--it's a calling.
"I have several children that I work with on a regular basis, and they are anywhere from like Weldon, who is non-verbal, doesn't speak at all, to Aidan, a little boy who has cerebral palsey, can walk a little bit and he speaks sometimes, he is more shy than anything else, and then Cassie, who talks all of the time," Morgan said. "Weldon, well when I first started working with him, wouldn't get on the horse. So we progressed from 'I don't want to get on that thing' to 'Oh, I will help you get on' to 'I'll ride for however long I want to. And then Aiden couldn't walk at all. Was carried everywhere. And now he has his walker and he goes all over the place. He will walk right up to the horse walk up to the steps and hop on. It's pretty awesome because it gives them an outlet to that. They would have done it someway this is just maybe an easier way for them to do that."
But the miraculous turn-arounds don't stop there. Stephanie has her own story to tell. "It's quite amazing, seeing these big large animals that weigh at least 1,000 pounds have little kids like Weldon do it all by themselves. It's great.," Stephanie said. Including the girl Stephanie mainly works with one-on-one, Jasa. "She used to be so scared and nervous around horses she just couldn't do it," Stephanie said. "Now she will go get on any one you want. She will do anything. It's amazing."
"Jasa is on our show team. She has moved from being on a regular challenged team show team to where she now shows in the youth class, where she can compete without a handler holding her. So that's pretty amazing," Stephanie said. And she made this stride in just about 2 years, which means the world to Stephanie.
"She's like the sister I never had and always kind of wanted," Stephanie said. "It's really nice to have someone that I can trust and help."
This job--and what these teens do--is not just rewarding for the kids they help.
Stephanie said, "Helping people--it's the most amazing feeling you can have, knowing that these kids are smiling everyday cause you get to help them. It's just really an amazing feeling."
Morgan said, "Everyone feels good when they see someone they help improve or progress. So in a way volunteering is selfish. But it's fun anyways."
Morgan and Stephanie have been at Whispers of Hope for years already, and they plan to give back for the rest of their lives.
Morgan plans on becoming a large animal vet so she can give back to other therapeutic centers. She recognizes that a lot of what therapeutic centers need is services, not just supplies.
"I want to open up like a horse rescue ranch kind of thing," Stephanie said. "And maybe rehabilitate them and bring them out here so they can do this. This is a really great place and I know the horses will be taken care of."
"There's a lot of ways that it impacts people that they may not notice. If they know a family that has a child that comes out here that might impact them ina way they might not know. And there is a lot of needs that wouldn't be met through this, because it's free. No charge. So some families who might not get the services they need for their child can get a little bit out here..maybe not everything but we will help a little bit," Pearce said.
And it is for all of these kids--the volunteers and the riders--that Mary gets up each morning.
Pearce said, "I can only tell you there is no greater blessing than to be here everyday."