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it appears in Talladega Magazine


By Pat Greene, President and Founder of the MGH Foundation

Some twenty years ago my family and I decided we should do something to memorialize our daughter, Marianna, who loved children with disabilities and was an avid horsewoman.  Before passing away due to a heart condition at the early age of 31, she had encouraged us to start a therapy program using horses at our farm here in Talladega, AL.  She had volunteered at a program in Birmingham but had moved to Kentucky and had to leave her horse on our farm.  Marianna noted that the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind with its large number of sensory impaired children was just up the road from us and we had the land and horses needed to start a program.

My family needed something positive in our lives as much as the children needed us.  A Physical Therapist and an instructor from the Helen Keller School joined with us to start a program of hippotherapy with eight Helen Keller students.  These were children with multiple disabilities who would benefit most from this kind of therapy.  We built a riding ring and wheelchair ramp in the yard beside our house and the Helen Keller bus brought them several times a week.  We were accredited by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) and our instructors were also certified by the association.  We recruited volunteers to help, and our student numbers began to grow. 

Weather was a problem.  Rain required us to cancel classes and many times my wife, Marilyn, and I would bring blankets from the house to keep the children warm.  In hot weather it was lemonade and fans.  This type of therapy must be performed on a regular basis to be effective, but our side yard arrangement would not accommodate the needs of the kids.

We decided to build a facility that would allow us to have a truly effective program, so we formed a non profit 501-C3 foundation – a subsidiary of the AIDB Foundation – to raise funds and operate the program.  Board members were the leaders in the community and included a Veterinarian, Banker, Attorney, Doctor and business people.  Our family donated land and we began a fundraising program to build a state of the art equestrian facility.  We met our initial goal of $800,000 to begin the first phase and we have continued to add to the center thanks to the generosity of so many friends.  Alabama Power Company, AT&T, the Hillcrest Foundation, Crippled Children’s Foundation, Home Depot and many others to too numerous to mention have been wonderful supporters.  Of course, my friends and associates from BellSouth and the Telephone Pioneers have been major donors.  Thankfully, we have blessed with contributions from thousands of people all over the country who heard about our program due in part to feature articles in People, Biography and National Geographic magazines. 

Our equestrian therapy program has grown in size and quality from our modest beginning.  Last year we had 3,600 therapy sessions.  The staff of six professionals is supplemented by therapist and instructors from AIDB and 70 faithful volunteers.  The MGH Special Equestrian Program is a premier accredited program that is nationally recognized and is the largest equine therapy service for multi-disabled individuals.

The monetary requirements of the MGH Program have also grown.  Our annual operating budget is approximately $300,000, not including major capital expenses.  Our endowment fund has suffered some from the economic downturn and now approximates $600,000.  Our hope is to grow this into a $2 million fund that will provide a source of steady income augmenting donations from our friends.

We are blessed to have a dedicated staff of outstanding professionals, many faithful volunteer workers, an outstanding Board of Directors and many wonderful, loyal donors.  Thanks to all of them, we see the way our special children progress and benefit as they happily enjoy the unique therapy that they can only get on the back of a horse.

Thanks to all of you who have made these last twenty years so meaningful and productive for Marilyn and me.  We lost one child, but through the MGH Special Equestrian Program have gained hundreds of others.


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