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Therapy riding center in need of volunteers

WATERVLIET, Mich. -- 

A therapy riding center in Michigan is branching out its programs, and that means more volunteers are needed to keep those programs running.

The Therapeutic Equestrian Center, or TEC, provides therapeutic riding and other horse-related activities for people with special needs in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties.  

Several volunteers are needed for riding lessons, which are offered six days a week, and other programs at the center. 

"It's just nice working with the kids and giving them that opportunity to enjoy another part of life," said Dan Cholewa, who has been volunteering at TEC for around 9 years.

Cholewa started to volunteer after the positive impact that the center made on his nephew who has special needs.

"He loves it,” said Cholewa. “He comes here on Saturday to ride. He's in his 20s now, but started out when he was just a little kid."

Cholewa's nephew is just one of the many riders at TEC using horses to build stronger minds, bodies and spirits.

"That may include someone with cerebral palsy, or someone that has autism, and a variety of other special needs as well. We work with a lot of different types of people that need help," said Autumn Zick, TEC board president and instructor.

In an effort to help more people, the center is adding more programs. One of those programs is a summer camp now in its second year.

"Many of these kids won't be on a softball team or something like that and this can be their own sport," said Zick.

The camp gives an opportunity for kids to experience the rural side of life.

"We went outside and we went on a trail," said Summer Camp Participant Londen. "I'm really happy to ride a horse."

And the happiness spreads to those helping out as well.

"For the volunteers, I think it's great for them because it gives them an opportunity to kind of reach out to these kids and to help them out," said Cholewa.

After nine years of working around the barn, a new program has Cholewa in the saddle.

"Now they have a program, if you're a veteran, you can sign up for this program and they've got horse riding lessons, so I can ride the horses now,” said Cholewa. “Every Wednesday I'm out here riding the horses, getting some lessons and it's fun.

Zick says, she loves seeing the joy that the horses bring to people, and the heart of the volunteers at TEC.

"The teamwork of everybody working together for a common purpose, in today's day and age, I think we need a little more of that, and we do that here at TEC," she said.

Zick says several volunteers are needed. The center can work around the schedules of volunteers. 

Volunteers do not need to have experience with horses but must be at least 14 years old.

More information about the center, the programs offered and volunteer opportunities can be found by clicking here or calling 269-429-0671.

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