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Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center

Bonnie Rachael knew she wanted to make a difference in her community, but she had no idea how. All she had was a small farm with a couple of horses and a lifetime of equine knowledge, and she didn’t see how she could use either to help others.

But when a friend at church pointed Rachael toward a magazine article about therapeutic riding, she knew she had found her calling.

“I just felt like the good lord had touched my heart and told me, ‘This is what I want you to do,’” Rachael says.

Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center opened in 2006 with Rachael using her two horses to serve two students. Now the program boasts 12 horses and five miniature ponies and offers an equine-assisted therapeutic activity program for more than 100 individuals with physical, mental or emotional disabilities.

Rachael estimates about 90 percent of her students are children, including about 70 from eight local schools in Effingham County ranging from elementary to high school who participate in Faith Equestrian’s Equine-Facilitated Learning Program — an eight-week curriculum in which students with special needs enjoy educational activities, scavenger hunts, and assistant therapeutic rides.

Many of those students have limited options for physical activities, but learning to ride can help them build core strength that aids in everyday activities, as well as coax students to use verbal commands and improve emotional well-being through the bond formed between horse and rider.

“When we put these kids on horses, they’re just like everybody else,” Rachael said. “Anywhere a horse can go with a typical person, it can go with a person with a disability.”

That freedom can help participants build confidence and self-esteem while providing incentive to take part in physical therapy.

“We’ve had therapists come out with some of these kids and they can’t believe what they see in terms of the motivation that’s there,” Rachael said. “It’s so different from a clinical environment where they’re asked to squeeze a ball or push something. They’re with a real, live animal and they can interact with the animal and socialize with one another. It makes them forget about their disability and focus on their abilities.”

Thanks to providers such as Easter Seals and B&B Care Services, many of Faith Equestrian’s students do not have to pay out of pocket, but the organization relies heavily on donations to achieve its mission. Despite a large volunteer base, the cost of each session — including paying certified instructors and caring for the horses — breaks down to about $78 per child. The Center’s cost for an eight-week session with students from local schools runs about $400 per child, and the cost of the program is not subsidized by the school district or county.

From helping a young boy with autism speak his first words, to witnessing a girl with cerebral palsy steer a horse on her own, Faith Equestrian has changed the lives of families in Effingham County. With your support, they can do so much more.

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Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless

Despite being so visible, homelessness remains one of the most overlooked problems in Savannah — and across the country.

The Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless is doing its part to combat the crisis in the Hostess City, and one of its biggest and boldest projects to date has begun to come to fruition.

On July 1, the CSAH will open the first phase of its community of tiny homes that eventually will provide 71 homeless veterans with a place to live. The first 23 of these 128-square-foot residences will be occupied on July 1 with five more villages and two clubhouses coming in the second and third phases of the project — pending funding.

Each tiny house will feature a kitchenette, sofa bed, shelving and a full bathroom, and residents will have access to a medical clinic, chapel and clubhouses with washers and dryers, all on one property. The homes will rent for just $240 per month. One of the CSAH’s top fundraising priorities at the moment is to cover the considerable infrastructure costs involved with the project.

The tiny house project is the most visible example of the CSAH’s recent work, but its efforts to build and sustain community practices that will eliminate homelessness in Chatham County go well beyond. The Authority’s staff of 18 assists more than 4,000 individuals in the county every year. The CSAH’s primary focus is to ensure that people can access housing as quickly as possible, without any barriers. CSAH works with communities to educate the public about why homelessness occurs, advocates for needed change and collaborates with all homeless support groups in the region to increase the capacity for support.

The 2017 point-in-time count identified more than 1,600 homeless individuals in Chatham County — the second-most in any county in Georgia — and that count doesn’t include an estimated 1,000 students enrolled in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System who are homeless. About 1 out of every 18 homeless individuals in Chatham County in 2017 were veterans — men and women who have served their country but do not have the resources to live in their own community. CSAH is committed to supporting a group of people who have spent years serving their nation, providing them with safe and permanent housing — but your help is needed.

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Agape Family Life Center

The Agape Family Life Center opened in 2007 with the mission of nurturing wellness — educational wellness, physical and mental wellness, family wellness — in South Carolina’s poorest county.

The Center first opened its 22,000-square-foot fitness center in 2007 with the goal of providing a single location for individuals to improve their physical fitness, achieve their goals and dreams, and become mentally and emotionally healthy.

It has become much more than a place to work out.

“We are in the business of improving and changing the lives of families in Jasper County,” said board member Dr. Ponchitta Young. “Our focus is meeting the needs of families, but we’re also meeting the needs of the community. We look at it from a holistic approach.”

The center offers recreational activities, space for sports like skating, volleyball, tennis and basketball, and a multi-purpose gym. It serves as the base for multiple community activities including a GED preparation course, food distribution services for families in need, and a substance abuse support group with weekly meetings and counseling sessions. The center can also be rented by individuals, businesses and organizations for a range of events and programs.

Agape’s food pantry fills a tremendous need in the community, as evidenced by the fact that some folks start lining up at 6 a.m. — some four hours before the food truck is scheduled to arrive — to ensure they’re able to feed their families. Up to 400-500 families per week benefit from the nutritional offerings provided by Agape’s food pantry.

The Center’s educational offerings benefit children and adults alike through academic services for students as well as a high school equivalency program for adults that will see two participants receive their diplomas this summer.

Agape also offers after-school care and summer camps that help keep young people on the right path and allow parents to work to support their families.

Earlier this year, Agape launched its 2020 Debt Free campaign with the target of paying off the remaining loan for the community center by February 2020 at the latest, and they need your support to reach that goal in the next nine months. Paying off the building loan would free up resources to launch new and expanded programs to aid families, children and senior citizens in one of the most under-served regions of South Carolina.

The Agape Family Life Center is committed to improving and changing the lives of families in Jasper County, where nearly 20 percent of residents live in poverty.

“There’s a greater need for children and also for senior citizens,” Young said. “Having the building paid off would give us an opportunity to do so many more things.”

Palmetto Ocean Conservancy

In less than two years since its founding, Palmetto Ocean Conservancy has seen its mission shift and expand from an organization aimed at conserving sharks to one focused on community-wide initiatives to preserve the coastal environment that embodies the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Founder Michelle Meissen launched the Conservancy to protect the sharks she has come to love as an avid scuba diver, but she shifted gears when she realized there was limited awareness in her community about the importance of recycling and the impact it can have on ocean conservancy. Palmetto Ocean Conservancy played a key role in advocating for the single-use plastic bag ban throughout Beaufort County and organized a local Strawless Summer campaign in a continuing effort to make a lasting impact.

Today, the Conservancy is extremely active in community outreach, running multiple education programs about sustainability, helping organize beach clean-ups and promoting initiatives to reduce littering of straws, bottle caps and plastic bags. The Conservancy has also visited more than 60 schools in the region — from elementary all the way to high school — to educate students about the impacts of plastic, plastic pollution,  marine debris and animal captivity, and to inspire them to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The Conservancy’s youth ambassador program — Guardians of the Sea — inspires and motivates students while also educating them about conservation and the marine world. Expanding the Guardians of the Sea program is one of the organization’s top fundraising goals, as Meissen aims to introduce new courses, bring in guest speakers to schools and events, and eventually establish a year-round Guardians camp.

“Being able to inspire these kids to want to become Guardians of the Sea is huge,” Meissen said. “I love getting feedback from parents on how it’s changed their child’s life. It’s definitely a reinforcement on my end.”

One of the hurdles to taking the programming to the next level is the Conservancy’s absence of an operating headquarters. In 2019, the Conservancy hopes to dramatically expand the Guardians of the Sea program — but it can only do so with your support.

Until we find a permanent solution to harmful waste products, consumer education is a top priority for the community. To train the next generation of Guardians of the Sea, the Conservancy is planning to introduce new courses  — so students can learn more about different marine animals and species, and dive into programs like shark tagging — bring in guest speakers to schools and events, and eventually establish a year-round Guardians camp.

Through its commitment to raise awareness throughout the community — from children to adults — the Palmetto Ocean Conservancy is determined to inspire people of all ages to do their part every day to help preserve our environment and conserve our marine life for the next generation.

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Pockets Full of Sunshine

When Pockets Full of Sunshine was formed in 2015, the non-profit’s mission was to make the South Carolina Lowcountry a “sunnier” place by providing inclusive social and vocational opportunities for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The founders — special education teachers Dayna Dehlinger and Laurin Rivers, and Carol and RJ Bartholomew, the parents of a young adult with special needs who was nearing graduation from high school — recognized a need for increased services for special adults that went beyond simply providing a safe place to go during the day.

The services “Pockets” provides can range from giving “Rays” — their nickname for the exceptional people they serve — opportunities to work for the organization’s screen-printing business or creating hand-made goods they sell at local markets to job training and social events — or even baking cookies with professional golfers.

When Pockets leadership learned that the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament was holding a cookie baking contest, the Rays wanted to take part.

“We thought this contest would be an exciting opportunity for our Rays and a great excuse to practice some functional skills in the kitchen,” Pockets Full of Sunshine co-founder Laurin Rivers said.

Little did they know it would grow into the opportunity of a lifetime, because the Rays didn’t just enter the cookie contest — they won it.

The Rays went into the test kitchen at the new University of South Carolina Beaufort campus on Hilton Head Island and created their “gluten-free but still delicious” recipe for “Peanut Butter Putter” cookies, complete with RBC-colored yellow and blue M&Ms. The cookies were a hole-in-one with the judges, and the “Peanut Butter Putter” cookie was named one of the “Official Cookies of Plaid Nation” and sold at concession stands throughout the tournament.

Baking and individually packaging 1,200 cookies required calling in some hired help, though, and PGA Tour star Jim Furyk — a two-time RBC Heritage champion and captain of the United States team for the upcoming Ryder Cup — joined the Rays in the kitchen to lend a hand.

“It was such a treat to meet such a kind man who took instantly to our wonderful adults,” Rivers said.

Furyk even tagged the sunshine keychain the Rays presented him with to his golf bag during the Heritage, and footage from his time in the kitchen was featured in CBS’ national telecast.

Pockets also stole the spotlight during the Heritage when music star Darius Rucker strayed from his job as an on-course commentator in search of a Peanut Butter Putter cookie only to find the concession stand had sold out. Carol Bartholomew moved quickly to find a cookie and deliver it to the Hootie & The Blowfish frontman, and the two posed for a photo together that appeared in local media and spread online.

The organization has capitalized on that momentum by offering the Peanut Butter Putter cookies for sale at the Wexford Market alongside homemade greeting cards and crafts. They sold out of cookies at their last market, and they’ve also been fulfilling custom orders, so they’re hopeful they can expand to add more recipes in the future.

To help Pockets Full of Sunshine keep providing these special opportunities for their Rays, please make a donation and help “spread the sun.”

EmployAbility

The years after high school can be difficult for adults with developmental disabilities, who often struggle to find the right job to fit their unique abilities.

Hundreds of exceptional folks in Savannah are finding their niche thanks to EmployAbility.

Founded in 1951 as a private, one-room school serving students with developmental disabilities in Savannah’s Forsyth Park, EmpoyAbility has seen its mission and scope evolve through the decades. The organization now serves more than 400 people annually through four core programs:

• Day Habilitation — offering individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities the opportunity to enjoy unique, enriching experiences each and every day;

• Community Access — connecting individuals with local non-profits in need of volunteers, enabling them to build new skills and providing a stepping stone to community employment;

• Pre-Vocational Training — providing individuals who are looking to pursue a career hands-on job skills and soft skills training to help get them ready for a future in the workforce;

• Community Employment — supporting those individuals who are ready to join the workforce with job coaches who can help with employment applications, interview preparation, and job on-boarding.

All four programs help adults with developmental disabilities live full and meaningful lives, where they are more broadly valued, are hired by employers, receive support and participate in ordinary activities.

With EmployAbility’s assistance, more than 200 adults with developmental disabilities were working in the Savannah community in 2017 — and nearly 80 percent of them earned above minimum wage.

One of EmployAbility’s recent success stories centers around a young man named Julius, who discovered his talent for customer service while taking part in EmployAbility’s culinary training program and later working with the organization’s mobile catering team. Julius is now an award-winning ambassador for Leopold’s Ice Cream Shop, where his enthusiasm for his job earned him the Spirit of Tourism Award from the Savannah Area Tourism Leadership Council.

Julius is just one example of the success EmployAbility is enjoying in its mission to prepare individuals with developmental disabilities for employment and community integration, but there are many more who haven’t been given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Transportation is one of the biggest barriers that individuals with developmental disabilities face when trying to fully integrate into their community. Many individuals use motorized chairs and cannot easily get where they need to go, paratransit vehicles are by appointment only and are difficult to secure, and city transit routes are limited.

Providing daily transportation to EmployAbility’s programs is a critical service that the charity provides, but there is no funding attached. Instead, every year, EmployAbility must secure over $400,000 to fuel, service, insure and operate its fleet of 18 passenger vans and wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Your generous donation will help provide daily transportation for individuals attending enrichment or training opportunities and help EmployAbility continue to provide these vital services.