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Veterans focused equine-therapy group at risk of closure

The Blade - 1/22/2020

Jan. 22--SWANTON -- A local nonprofit that uses equine-assisted therapy to help veterans is in danger of having to close.

Healing Of Our Veterans Equine Services, or HOOVES, needs to raise $100,000 in the next few weeks to secure its Swanton Township retreat center property on Wilkins Road. Amanda Held, executive director, said in a news conference Wednesday that a planned significant financial partnership has fallen through.

"We have to raise this funding or we're done," she told The Blade.

Mrs. Held said the nonprofit has been in serious discussions since December, 2017, with a major organization who offered the partnership. The two entities jointly discussed the need for a larger space when the 30-acre Wilkins Road property was offered to HOOVES on a lease-to-purchase agreement.

The property meets all of the program's needs, so the nonprofit went for it in October, 2018, with the assurance funding would be provided when the partnership was finalized, Mrs. Held said.

"Two weeks before Christmas, we were told they would keep us in mind but they couldn't move forward with the partnership because they had to lay people off and didn't have the money," she said.

While Mrs. Held declined to name the partner, a veteran with the program told The Blade that ProMedica was the organization who offered support.

A ProMedica spokesman did not directly address whether it or an affiliated group was the partner. Instead, the spokesman said in a statement that the ProMedica Foundation helped HOOVES leadership with initial fundraising guidance and that it featured it in its Giving Tuesday campaigns and other events.

"Both of those efforts are aimed at helping to raise awareness of various local nonprofits and encouraging support," the statement reads. "H.O.O.V.E.S. is one of many nonprofit organizations doing great things in our community."

Mrs. Held said the would-be partner never gave any indication things wouldn't work out. They had signed a memorandum of understanding and a formal contract was in the works. The organization hired a "gift officer" specifically to fund-raise for HOOVES and be a liaison between the two groups.

"Everything was right, as it was happening," Mrs. Held said. "It was right until it wasn't. Then all of a sudden, it just wasn't."

HOOVES has been able to pay rent in recent months primarily because Mrs. Held gave up her salary to do so. She worked out a three-year land contract with the property owner, and now needs to raise $75,000 for the remainder of the down payment, plus $25,000 to cover six months of mortgage payments.

Mrs. Held said she already has funding agreements in place to provide $75,000 in 2020 and 2021, but those funds cannot be used for the dow payment to initially secure the property.

"This place allows us to give our veterans the best experience," she said. "I've got other funding lined up, we just need to get there."

Tristan Mohler, of Stockbridge, Mich., attended a HOOVES retreat in April and it changed his life, he said.

"I connected with the horses," he said. "I have a sense of purpose where I didn't before."

Mr. Mohler said he was raped during his service in the Navy. Following that trauma, he transferred to a combat unit of the Marines, specifically hoping to be killed, and was deployed for 13 months.

"After 14 years of reckless behavior, drug addiction, and every other symptom of my self-induced prison, I found the key to my freedom through the HOOVES program," he said.

He said he tried counseling through Veterans Affairs, but getting a diagnosis and a prescription for medication wasn't enough.

"That's great for short term, but it's just a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed," Mr. Mohler said. "It's not going to work for the long term."

He stays at the HOOVES retreat center four days per week, volunteering to help care for the animals. Its existence is crucial for his continuing healing, he said.

"Every day is a battle," he said. "There are days where it's harder than others and I want to fall back into the ways I used to be because it was easier to numb the pain instead of deal with it. ... [HOOVES] helps me focus elsewhere."

The organization is attempting to raise funds online.

Check back later for updates.

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