Victory Reins: therapeutic horses and special children having fun

Have you ever heard about Equine-assisted therapy? Have you ever heard about horses being used in therapies? Yes it is exactly what you are thinking and what you imagine: A therapy assisted by a horse. It consists of a therapeutic team, a riding instructor and other volunteers, a horse, and the patient and the idea is to use the horse in order to help the patient regain certain skills. There are many types of therapies that use a horse and some of them don’t even require the person to ride the horse. Some types of therapies include Hippotherapy for speech and communication problems; Equine-assisted learning (EAL) that uses the horses to develop life skills; Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) which doesn’t require riding the horse but grooming it and doing ground exercises with it.

Victory Reins: therapeutic horses and special children having fun

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There is a non-profit organization in the Chicago area that uses these types of therapies to help children and adults with special needs get in touch with the beautiful and therapeutic experience of sharing time with a horse. The name of this charity is Victory Reins and they are providing therapeutic equine recreational activities for people to know, understand and benefit from the bond that is created between horse and rider.

The story started in the year 2007 when Sandy Michalewicz, who is the Founder and is still the Director of Victory Reins Therapeutic Riding Center, visited a community program in Oregon where they had an information clinic. After much praying and seeing the program and clinic at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch Sandy knew what she had to do. She went back to her ranch and understood that she had to combine her passion for horses and children in order to create a program that could make a difference within the community. Since then the program has grown from 5 students to more than 40 steady students and they also host special needs groups that want to go for a day or half a day to use and visit the horses.

Victory Reins receives children and adults with any type of condition that can be managed through animal interaction. The starting age is 3 years old and some of the children and adults they have managed come with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrpohy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Downs Syndrome. Even people that are spiritually handicapped are accepted so they can experience the love and affection a horse can give.

We talk about horses because they are the ones that do all the work and the animal that most families want to use for their therapies. But the farm has many animals that can help as part of the therapy. They idea is to educate children and adults by having the experience with animals in a safe and supervised environment and give them benefits that can be seen in the physical, cognitive, and psychological areas. The relationship and interaction with animals awakens the patient´s awareness, increases coordination and attention and provides patients with a different attitude towards life.

So, what should people expect when they go to Victory Reins? And how are lessons designed and taught? People should expect a fun and relaxed atmosphere where they can participate from the first moment if they wish either by doing daily chores or by just sitting down and watching their child or relative interact with the horses. There are many things to do around the ranch and the diversity of people is amazing so people can see different gifts and talents  and how they interact with horses and animals.

Victory Reins: therapeutic horses and special children having fun

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On the other hand, lessons are almost customized and tailor made depending on each person that goes to the ranch. The first step of the lesson is to introduce one of the ponies to the patients so they can know how to deal with the animal, how a horse behaves and what type of care the horse needs. Here, they let people interact hands on with the horses and they explain each step along so the patient and the person that is with the patient understands what is happening to his or her relative and to the horse. As mentioned before, riding is not the only activity that comes in the lesson. Other activities such as grooming, feeding, bathing, riding, cleaning a stall, preparing horses and helping out in daily chores around the barn are also available to interact with nature and with animals. Since each person is so unique, in Victory Reins they try to make everything as customized as possible so the real needs in every person are addressed and the therapies are even more efficient.

Did you like this post ? be sure to also read this post on a charity that is empowering and connection people through visual art


Interesting facts about Philanthropy in Chicago that will surprise you

Chicago is recognized not only for its architecture and culture but by the quality of people who always seeks to help those who need it. Their donations are arranged in a variety of sectors, including education, health, human services, arts, and more.

Giving in Chicago, It’s a recently done research that shows Chicagoans are more willing to donate than the national average. Only in 2013, were given 10 billion to recipient entities where household donations stand out from the rest with 71 %, followed by grantmakers with a  24%, and after that, corporations with a 5%.


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As if that weren’t enough, when comes the time for helping, the Chicagoans don’t content with doing the donation, they also take ownership of the situation. They also do constant checking to be sure that the aid reaches the right hands and they don’t make the donation without first searching for information . All this because they feel identified with the cause.

Philanthropy, defined as love for the human been which is expressed as helping others, has certain characteristics: it is non-reciprocal and is universalist . The first one means that the person who donates does not expect that the favor will be returned in the future because is something beyond convenience and it´s more identifying with the other. The second one talk about universalism, this means that the contributor has no relationship with the person that helps, because more than helping someone in specific, is to help and improve any situation.

In Chicago, the case where there are more donations is human services, which refers to the needs of human beings and their search to improve the quality of life. People who work in this gives guidance, counseling, treatment and provide the basic needs for the ones who are in crisis. The research shows that about 70 companies, the majority gives donations to this field.

Not only Chicago, but all United States is recognized as the country where philanthropy is more active, not only in a matter of numbers but also because of the improvement and development of its institutional forms. For American people, philanthropy it´s part of their values and they see themselves as one single thing, where if you help others, the country, in general, will improve.

According to Giving in the USA 2015, donations increase every year. For example in 2014, there was a 7.1 % growth with a figure of 358.38 billion dollars. For the United States, the percentages are 72% of individual donations , 15 % from foundations, inherited 8% and 5% of corporations.

Philanthropy in the United States had began to spread after the Second World War when the whole country joined together looking to eradicate poverty and inequality. The first acts of philanthropy were made by religion, but in individual cases, it shows out the case of John D. Rockefeller in 1910, when he decided to create an institution with the object of “promoting the welfare of humanity.” He invited everyone to not only worry about individuals healthy, also for social balance.

Since then, step by step, Chicago has been climbing to be noted in this area. The high productivity is also reflected in the web, where more than 900 thousand pages appear related to the topic, not just institutions or people who practice it but information and guides to know who, how and where to donate. The Internet shows a variety of causes seeking support, such as helping women, Africans, artists and more. In addition, some pages contain their own search engines so people can look for a specific situation. 

Related: The power of philanthropy: building social bonds in communities

Another thing to note is that Chicago nonprofit institutions have worked out to make the formalities every day easier and more safety when comes the time to do a donation, giving the contributor all the guarantees that their money is helping the cause.

At present, issues such as the environment have gained value for philanthropists in Chicago since there is more consciousness of the damage and the consequences to the planet. Many of these organizations not only seek for helping ecosystems but also the living beings that live on it, to prevent and save them from extinction. The most popular ones are related to thaw and climate changes, animals in danger of extinction and the protection of natural reserve. Some of these non-profit organizations that support this subject are in Chicago and they also talk about recycling, watershed projects, and urban gardening.


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However, there are many causes to support. The Chicagoans firmly believe that any help is valuable for others and love for the human being it’s for everyone. They also expect this trend to continue growing because, with the help of all, we will gradually mitigating the problems of society.

The valuable contribution of the Chicago Foundation for Women

Chicago Foundation for Women is a non-profit organization with more than 30 years of existence. It helps women and girls with different problems in the Chicago metropolitan area. The organization focuses its efforts on three pillars: work and economic security, freedom from violence and access to health. Chicago Foundation for Women works based on these three categories investing resources in creating better social conditions. Donors at the organization are well informed about the company’s labors, which involve educating and advocating for women, meaning that the organization teaches, defends and gives the support they need in different situations. Members of the Foundation are leaders preparing women for social changes.

For the foundation, to invest in women and their relatives generates more stability in families, improves community living, increases work opportunities, among other benefits. Investing in women problems and needs helps future generations getting better living environments, safe conditions, and easier social services access.

The valuable contribution of the Chicago Foundation for Women

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The foundation has been supported by multiples organizations with different grants, from $500.000 dollars to over $5 million dollars. Besides these grants, the organization also promotes creative solutions for women and girls problems and stimulates their allies to generate new ideas and inspire innovation processes that could have a positive impact on its members. The Chicago Foundation for Women receives contributions from its partners from $15.000 dollars to $150.000 dollars.

Related: Young mothers have the support they need 


In 1984, Marjorie Craig Benton, Sunny Fischer, Iris J. Krieg and Lucia Woods Lindley started to work on different initiatives which became what is known today as the Chicago Foundation for Women. With this organization, they wanted to help women living under difficult circumstances associated with domestic violence, the lack of economic resources, poor access to health services and other issues that affect lots of women and their families every day. Back in the 80’s, only 3 percent of all the philanthropic grants were destined to solve issues affecting women in need, for this reason, the ladies in charge of creating the Chicago Foundation for Women merged their knowledge and skills to get more funds for needed women and girls in the city.


The foundation has five principles to lever up their mission which is “To invest in women and girls as catalysts, building strong communities for all”. These principles are:

  • Equality as a universal human right.
  • Empowerment as the right that people have to take their own choices.
  • Diversity as an element to merge ideas from different communities.
  • Collaboration to join efforts from different communities and families.
  • Integrity to support ethically all the initiatives and activities.

Chicago Foundation for Women in the Metropolitan area

As mentioned above, the principal focus area of the grants given to the Foundation is the Chicago Metropolitan area, however, contributions that are received by its partners are extended to other localities near Chicago, which means that the recollected funds are not going only to women and girls of the metropolitan area but to families and communities from the Chicago suburbs.

Currently, the foundation has worked with more than 2.000 givers and allies, also the organization has promoted more than 150 projects that include more than 50.000 women. The foundation not only helps women’s needs and personal problems, it also stimulates the creation of new concepts and enterprises for these women and for the community through seed money and counseling. With these funds, the organization pursues the creation of innovative ideas that can generate employees for the community and solve diverse issues for the Chicago people.

The valuable contribution of the Chicago Foundation for Women

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The foundation initiatives

One of the most important goals of the foundation is the women’s leadership initiative. With this, the organization pursues the creation and development of volunteer leaders to promote social changes and the engagement of these women with community labors. Besides, with this initiative women get empowered to do things for their families and for other women in Chicago.

Another important initiative of the foundation is the board members boot camp. With this, the organization wants to increase the participation of women in non-profit organizations boards, to develop new projects in Chicago and help the community.

On the other hand, there is an advocacy academy, where women can learn different concepts about philanthropy and public policy. Furthermore, they develop skills to benefit the community and promote new enterprises to serve other needed women and support other nonprofit organizations.

Chicago Foundation for Women staff and allies

The foundation’s current CEO is K. Sujata. At this time the organization has 26 board members and 14 staff members. Through years, the foundation has joined labors with other non-profit organizations like Alphawood Foundation or Polk Bros. Foundation to get funds for multiple activities that will benefit needed Chicago women and their families. Also, these allies bring new points of view and involve people of other social groups like LGBT members or women of color. This diversity helps to solve new unconsidered issues and brings new valuable ideas.

The Chicago Foundation for Women is a great ally in the city, due to the unconditional support that it gives not only to women and girls but to their families, improving their quality of life, teaching how to work with the community and funding initiatives increasing their work opportunities.

Alive rescue: a safe haven for animals.

There are many animal charities out there, which is a very good thing a Yoseif Meystel can agree. Animals do not have the possibility to tell us what they are feeling or what do they actually need. Pets or animals in general, under the watch of humans who can decide what to do with them. Unfortunately, there are some human beings that do not know or understand what the word respect means, specially towards animals, and they mistreat them as if they had the right to do so.

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For those animals that are being abused, and are having hard knock lives, there is hope. In Chicago, there is an animal charity called Alive rescue, who focuses on helping animals in a different way. Of course, they have shelters and places where they keep their animals, but they also have many programs that are designed to raise awareness and to include the community in order to have a better understanding of animals, pets and how to live in harmony with them.

Let’s take a look at this amazing charity and what their programs are all about:

The whole story started back in the year 2008 in March.  Founder and President Kristen Gerali as a child spent time on her uncle’s farm in Wisconsin where she developed a lifelong love for animals.  She was one of the first people to arrive to New Orleans after the hurricane Katrina hit to help with all the activities that needed to be done. This changed her life and when she went back to Chicago she continued going to events to help. This is when she had the idea to start ALIVE Rescue, to focus her efforts on a more professional way. Now, she acts as the board Chairperson, President, Treasurer, Director of Intake, and Director of Operations and has 4 rescued animals in the house.

The other important founder and currently Vice President is Greg Raymond who from the beginning took his knowledge as a business owner and executive for more than 25 years and applied it to Alive Rescue. He has been the unofficial Director of IT, Building, Maintenance and Infrastructure. He had a long experience managing animal charities in the Furry Friends Foundation. He also focuses on raising awareness of factory farming and animal testing. He is also a major advocate for wildlife and the environment.

Alive Rescue started by only using people to help them with foster homes for cats and dogs. They didn’t have a facility to use and they worked hard to get it. This went on from March 2008 until November of 2012. The previous year, in November of 2011, they signed a lease for a building, which will then become “the Little Barn” in the Roscoe Village neighborhood of Chicago.  They rehabbed and re-designed the original structure in order to make it perfect for the first shelter and adoption center.  On May 5th, 2013, The Little Barn was officially opened.

Alive Rescue core values are simple and straight forward:  responsibility, first towards animals that are in local open-access shelters with a high probability of being euthanized. Also responsibility with the animals within the shelter.  They are totally convinced that every animal deserves a full life and that is why they take in animals that other adoption organizations may overlook, including seniors, unpopular breeds, and pets with special needs; their mission statement reflects their commitment to the animals by stating that every animal has the right to a well-balanced, socialized and fulfilled life and that they take  on the responsibility to save, rehabilitate and place abandoned, abused and stray animals.  The mission statement also states that they will provide medical, behavioral and physical support for animals despite their age, health and/or breed. Their mission statement also states that they promote sustainable living and care giving by building awareness, appreciation and respect for all animals and the environment.

Alive Rescue_pets_charity in chicago_Community benefits Chicago_Yosef Meystel

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In an amazing approach, Alive Rescue uses only green strategies for their activities. Since they promote sustainable living and care-giving within their communities by building awareness, appreciation and respect for all animals and the environment, they use green products to continue the same line and culture of the charity. For example, all dog Foster Homes are provided with bio-degradable poop bags and  all cat foster homes are supplied with eco-friendly cat litter; at Events, all eating utensils are bio-degradable or re-usable, they only serve vegetarian and vegan dishes; and at the Little Barn they  purchase only environmentally-friendly and/or recyclable materials,  animals receive only high-quality food to promote their health and reduce waste; all appliances are energy-efficient, and paper is saved and recycled.

Take a look at this article so you can find out more about animal charities in Chicago.

Charity events in Chicago: The place to be for helping

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Philanthropic actions have been around the lives of Chicagoans since the 19th century. That’s why the people from this Midwest City are always ready to lend a hand for helping others in need, and they are recognized for being constantly involved in many charitable works. These charitable works have numerous purposes such as seeking a good education for children from low-income communities, assist homeless people, finding shelter for stray animals, or raising money to research into possible cures for diseases. Since the philanthropic spirit in Chicago is so elevated, you can find there charity events the whole year, so you can also contribute a little with all the charitable works present in the city. Here you will find a list of upcoming charity events in the Chicago area in which you can take part and start doing some good for others.

31st Annual Hunger Walk – The Greater Chicago Food Depository

Since 1979, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has worked to fight hunger in the Chicago community. To fight back hunger, this Chicago food bank has created soup kitchens, children’s programs, shelters, pantries, mobile programs, older adult programs and other projects to beat off the roots of hunger, and secure food for people in need. For 31 years now, the GCFD has held the Annual Hunger Walk to raise awareness of hunger in the Chicago community and support its about 650 food agencies. The annual event of GCFD will take place on June 25th at the historic Jackson Park. The program will start at 7:00 AM when the registration opens, and the walk will start at 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM. You can find the tickets ($5 – $25) to support this charitable work in Cook County. For more information, visit the GCFD web site.

6th Annual 5k RUN! To end homelessness – A Safe Haven Foundation

Walk & Run Chicago_charity events_Yosef Meystel

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In 1994, Neli Vazquez-Rowland and her husband Brian Rowland started the non-profit organization of “A Safe Haven Foundation” after an addiction crisis of Brian. Since then, they have worked for 22 years to help people recovering from addictions. Among other charitable works, the Safe Haven Foundation supports homeless singles, single parents and their children, and works to reunite families fall apart by addiction. The foundation set up the Annual 5k RUN as a way to raise money, so A Safe Haven can accomplish its mission and transform the lives of homeless people. This event will be held on Sunday, July 10th, 2016 at 8:30 AM. The starting point will be the Douglas Park in Chicago. You need to register in advance to compete in the 5k RUN. If you are interested in the A Safe Haven event, visit its web site.

Mended Little Hearts Day-Sox Game – Mended Little Hearts of Chicago

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For around 12 years, the Mended Little Hearts has supported families of children and patients with congenital heart defects (CHD) in Chicago. The Mended Little Hearts of Chicago is a work of volunteer families that share similar experiences. The mission of the foundation is to provide peer-to-peer information to the families, so they can have access to answers and resources for setting up a better future. This year, the Chicago White Sox, the baseball team that Yosef Meystel roots for, will play a match against Oakland A’s in which $5 of every $15 ticket sold will support the foundation. The match will be on August 21st, 2016 at the U.S. Cellular Field. The match will start at 1:00 PM, and it is due to finish at 4:00 PM. For more information, go to the foundation site.

Women Veteran’s Empowerment Luncheon – One Savvy Veteran

Meosha Thomas is a veteran woman who founded this non-profit organization to give other veteran women in Chicago area assistance in different issues. The idea of One Savvy Veteran (OSV) started when Thomas was medically retired from military service, and she realized there were a very few places that can give her some assistance to resume her civilian life. On June 26th, 2016, OSV, with the help of other foundations such as Dryhootch and Military Caregivers, will host a luncheon. At this event, you will hear several guest speakers, take a brunch, and drink some beverages. The Empowerment Luncheon will take place at the Waldorf Astoria from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

Associate Board 30th Annual House and Garden Walk – The Chicago Lighthouse

The Chicago Lighthouse has worked since 1906 for the dignity, equality and independence of the blind and visually impaired people in Chicago. This foundation innovates in areas of vision care, rehabilitation, education, employment and technology. On June 23rd, 2016, there will be an event in which guests will visit spectacular houses along the North Shore. The meeting point will be the North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. If you want more information, visit its web site.

Imerman Angels: the war against cancer with someone just like you

Everybody knows how cancer affects people and the ones around them, their lives, their dynamics and their self-esteem. Some people have been fortunate in their lives because they have never had contact with cancer, or with someone that has had cancer. It is difficult for everyone: for the family, for the patient, for the people around the patient, for friends and even for the doctors.

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One thing surely helps (and in almost any case): being around somebody to talk to, to cry, to question, to show frustration. In other words, a family member or a friend. And while this is a very good help for the patient, sometimes friends or family don’t have or don’t understand certain information. Here is where this amazing charity jumps in and provides a very good aid for patients and people around them.

Imerman Angels ( is a charity that is providing an amazing “matching” service for cancer patients and the people around them. They provide personalized connections that enable one-on-one support among cancer fighters, survivors and caregivers. In other words, they are bringing the cancer community together, whether you are a patient or you can just help. They work on the idea that companion and understanding are very important to overcome any disease or obstacle in life, and they make sure that people that need this companion in the hard moment of a cancer disease will get the best one to one help that a person needs and deserves. Through their very original matching process, this charity is matching anyone seeking cancer support with someone just like them, with their same process or the same view of the disease or the moment or with the same story. In other words, a “Mentor Angel”. A Mentor Angel is a cancer survivor or caregiver who is the same age, same gender, and most importantly who has faced the same type of cancer as the patient that will be provided with an angel.

They provide the service for free and help anyone touched by any type of cancer, at any cancer stage level, at any age, living anywhere in the world, and with as much doubts, questions and frustrations as them. The idea is that These one-on-one relationships  can give the patient and anyone touched by cancer (caregivers, friends, family) the opportunity of asking as many personal, general and medical related questions as they want to someone who has been there before and knows first-hand what could or can be going on better than anyone. It is not only about “being there”, which is also important, but it is also about giving support and empathy and help cancer fighters and caregivers navigate the system and choose the best route, determine their options and create their own routine and system to deal with any stage of the illness. Even for caregivers, because they also experience feelings similar to those of the person facing cancer and have many questions on how to deal with new situations or personal issues that may be important. Mentor Angels can relate to all this while being sensitive to the experience and situation.

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The Imerman Angels story comes from the mind Jonny Imerman, a cancer fighter and survivor that at the age of 26 years was diagnosed with testicular cancer and began the fight of his life and saw how his life changed all of a sudden. Using his experience he realized there was something missing.  Fortunately, he was lucky enough to have his family and friends around him to help with whatever was needed, which was very important, but never met anyone his age who was a cancer survivor. There were some things that could only be asked to someone your own age about testicular cancer without getting embarrassed or feeling uncomfortable. Jonny was looking for someone who had had similar experiences and that truly understood, and that was intimately familiar with his experience. He also saw that there were a lot of people that were willing to help, but no one with his cancer or that could answer his specific questions. In short, he was looking for someone who had already faced the same type of cancer and knew how to handle it. From this entire journey and the lack of segmented and well allocated companion, the idea of starting a channel and a way of connecting the right people with the right patient was born in the year 2003. Soon after this, all the experience, the idea and the approach came together to form Imerman Angels.

Imerman Angels is a charity that goes beyond just allocating a person, they make sure it is the right person and with the right experience to fully understand all the questions and doubts that patients and caregivers have.  

You can also see another charity in the chicago area right here