Horsing around keeps these volunteers happy

Their motivation for volunteering to Equest to volunteer are different, but the reason two neighborhood residents, Nicholas Birchum and Anne Pohli, have continued to volunteer is the same – the special people they have met.

Equest is a therapeutic equestrian program that gives physically, emotionally and mentally disabled adults and children the opportunity to ride horses. Volunteers are assigned to walk alongside the horses and assist riders during classes at the agency’s Wylie riding center.

Birchum, who works in the market analysis department of the NationsBank student loan center, decided to volunteer after attending the funeral of a friend who had been a volunteer for several non-profit organizations.

“I just thought it would be good to take up where she had left off,” Birchum says. He called Equest and has volunteered every Saturday for two years.

Pohli learned of Equest four years ago when she was sent to the agency for her Junior League volunteer placement. Since then, she has been volunteering Saturdays and will serve as the Junior League’s project chairman for Equest next year.

Volunteer responsibilities include grooming and saddling horses, cleaning the barn, participating in special events, and assisting with occasional mailing or telephone work. Birchum’s and Pohli’s favorite time is when they work with riders.

Meeting Joe, a 14-year-old who is physically challenged, has been a special experience for Birchum. The two have been working together for more than a year, and Birchum says he and his friend are “the terror of the barn.”

Birchum recently accompanied Joe to a Special Olympics district tournament. Joe’s horse was feisty, Birchum says, but Joe maintained his composure and executed the elements of the course as best he could. Later that day, Joe received the gold medal.

“Watching Joe accept the gold medal was one of the highest moments of my life,” Birchum says. “It is a tremendous reward to see the rider as he changes and know that you are a part of the progress.”

Pohli also works with a rider, Caroline, who she met during her second day as an Equest volunteer. Pohli has trained with the 16-year-old weekly, helping her prepare for many competitions.

Two years ago, Pohli attended a tournament in New York with Caroline and watched her win several medals. Pohli says it’s not unusual for an Equest volunteer to meet and become committed to one rider.

“You just find a rider and get such a kick out of them that you sign up for their class again and again,” she says.

“Volunteering at Equest has its selfish rewards, too,” admits Pohli, a tax lawyer for NationsBank. “I enjoy getting out of town with the fresh air by the lake and meeting the neat people who work there.”

Disabled individuals come from throughout the Dallas area to ride horses at Equest, so hundreds of volunteers are needed days, evenings and weekends. The agency hosts several training sessions each year for people interested in volunteering.

The next training session is scheduled for late May. Call the Volunteer Center at 826-6767 for details.

Volunteer Opportunities

The Volunteer Center is a United Way agency that serves as a clearinghouse to recruit and refer volunteers for more than 750 agencies in Dallas. Thousands of volunteer positions are waiting to be filled. Call the Volunteer Center at 826-6767 for information about these and other opportunities.

IT’S A HOLE-IN-ONE tournament benefiting Dallas Can! Academy, an alternative school near Downtown. Hundreds of volunteers are needed to register participants, spot and sort golf balls and supervise the range. The event is scheduled June 2-6 at Riverside Golf Club near D/FW International Airport.

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