ENID, Okla. — A youth group of almost 20 teenagers from Enid First Church of the Nazarene spent their spring break donating time to community service, including a sizable painting project at Bennie's Barn Equine Therapy and Riding Facility.
Bobby Cranston, youth pastor at Enid First Church of the Nazarene, 324 N. Cleveland, said the service project was part of the church's annual Enid Serve Week, which puts students to work during spring break to "serve people in Enid and people in our church."
"I just feel it's very important, as a church and as a youth group, we stay in this mindset of serving others," Cranston said.
With that goal in mind, the youth group spent spring break volunteering at Loaves and Fishes of Northwest Oklahoma, picking up trash at area parks and schools, performing maintenance at the church and cleaning up downed limbs for an elderly church member.
But, the biggest project of the week was at Bennie's Barn, 4914 E. Rupe. Founded in 2014, the nonprofit equine therapy program uses horses to help those with physical, cognitive, emotional and/or developmental disabilities gain physical strength, balance, control, self-esteem and self-confidence.
The First Nazarene youth group applied more than 15 gallons of fresh paint to the riding arena and fence posts, and cleaned out and organized "a very unruly shed," said Bennie's Barn executive director Chip Baker.
Brandon Gehay, a senior at Pioneer High School, said he enjoyed learning about the equine therapy program while donating his time over spring break.
“I learned that the mission is to provide a safe environment for the horses and help them grow, while still letting people be involved so the horses won’t be timid when it comes to people," Gehay said. "It makes horses healthy and gives people the opportunity to ride and learn about them.”
Brooklyn McCartney, a junior at Pioneer High School, said the volunteer project was a meaningful way to give back to children with special needs who benefit from the services at Bennie's Barn.
"Special needs children aren’t always able to do the things we are," McCartney said, "and having a place that allows them to ride the horses while giving them strength is really incredible to me.
"My favorite part of working for Bennie’s Barn would probably be getting to see the work they do for other people and their dedication to all the riders," McCartney said. "I wanted to help people in my community and in my church. It makes me feel good personally, and the fact that everyone was so appreciative of our work made it so much better."
While many kids may have had more leisurely plans for spring break, McCartney said it was a privilege to be able to give back to the community.
“I learned that I’m really lucky to have had the ability to even be able to paint, clean things up and organize," she said. "Many of the children that ride the horses at Bennie’s Barn don’t have that privilege, so it was nice being able to do things that will make their experience more enjoyable and easier."
Reflecting on the youth group's efforts over spring break, Cranston said the teenagers give the community "hope for the future."
"When it comes down to it, this is the future of Enid, and seeing students who are willing to serve others and the community, that gives me hope," Cranston said. "There's good things ahead if these are the people who will be leading the community later on."
Baker said he's continually impressed with the "wonderful community made up of so many young talented kids, who just want to keep paying it forward."
"What makes Bennie's Barn so unique is exactly what happened when the Enid First Nazarene youth volunteered," Baker said. "It is in their hard work, sweat, sore muscles, and tired fingers from painting five acres of fencing, that ended up blessing them just as much as it did us."
Baker said Bennie's Barn couldn't continue without the help of dedicated volunteers like the Nazarene youth group.
"There is so much that goes into running a horse therapy ranch, and it is all possible through the hard work and dedication of both our staff and community volunteers and donors," he said. "This community is blessed, so richly blessed, and we are but one part of that."
In addition to volunteer efforts, donations also are needed to keep Bennie's Barn going, Baker said.
"The horse rescue and the ability to allow special needs families ... to have a horse therapy ranch right here in their own backyard is made possible through donations, alone," he said.
To learn more about Bennie's Barn, to volunteer or donate, contact Baker at (580) 548-7258 or visit https://www.benniesbarn.org/.