By J.C. Amodea
Children and adults struggling with sometimes overwhelming physical, social, and mental health issues find respite at the Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC). Due to the personal sacrifice and selfless giving of 300 to 350 volunteers a year, the lives of participants are being positively impacted.
Executive Director Melissa Saracino Lamont, PATH International Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (CTRI), who began her NTRC career as a volunteer, now leads the organization that started in 1997.
Group programs are offered as either mounted or unmounted equine-facilitated psychotherapy or equine-facilitated learning that serve some 500 to 600 yearly, addressing over 50 distinct disabilities and additional needs. A therapeutic riding program can serve up to 180 yearly, the majority of whom are under 18, with some 60 and over. With a herd of 12 to 14 horses, a dedicated core group of instructors and community volunteers working with more than 100 therapeutic riders, therapeutic progress is made on a continual basis.
“Our mission is our core practice, carried out with care, integrity and safety as paramount. Programs are research-based and directly address the physical, behavioral and mental health needs of participants and how horses help them,” says Lamont.
Noting that volunteers are “the heart of our program”, Lamont says they are indispensable to NTRC programs. In addition to serving as side-walkers or leaders, volunteers can also perform a variety of important tasks, such as helping with administrative, fundraising, barn, and property duties.
“We couldn’t serve our participants and care for our horses without our volunteers. I started as a volunteer in 2008 because of my love for horses, and saw first-hand how much the NTRC herd helps,” she says.
“As I did, many come for the horses and stay because they fall in love with the impact our programs have on participants. So many of our volunteers continue to help year after year, because they see the impact that I saw years ago – it still happens every day.”
Always seeking new volunteers, the application and training process that includes a background check is thorough, simple, and can be completed online.
Lamont says that the greatest challenge faced by NTRC and echoed by community stakeholders is to serve more individuals throughout Collier County. There has been an increase in community awareness of NTRC, that includes new donors, volunteers, and program participants due to rebranding and an updated online presence.
“More outreach and marketing are needed to reach those within our service area. As we grow, we have an opportunity to increase awareness about our approach and the features of NTRC that are unique in the equine therapy industry,” says Lamont.
NTRC maintains its accreditation as a Premier Center through PATH International through a rigorous process every five years.
“We take our work seriously, while enjoying the smiles, laughter and growth of all those involved with our organization,” she adds.
For more information about Naples Therapeutic Riding Center and to learn about volunteer opportunities and how to get involved, visit www.ntrc.org and the Ways to Volunteer page.