In Service



A key component of an MCLA education is the opportunity for students to involve themselves in service learning projects. Last semester, Amanda Shakar '10 (left) of Bennington, VT, and Hannah Giroux '09 of Adams, MA, made it possible for a group of individuals from the developmental division of United Counseling Services (UCS) to ride horses for 16 weeks this fall at free therapeutic group lessons with Equus Therapeutic Inc. at Oak Hollow Farm in Williamstown, MA.

While students in Professor Myles Whitney's Tier III capstone course in Service Learning, Shakar and Giroux set up a pilot program to see if clients from UCS would be interested in therapeutic horseback riding, an emerging field in which horses are used as a tool for physical therapy, emotional growth, and learning.

"Four clients paid their own way at first," says Shakar. "Our project basically was to set up the connection for USC and Equus to be able to collaborate together to allow the clients to ride at Oak Hollow. We wanted to choose something that, when the class was over, the impact would remain."

To fund the project, Shakar and Giroux wrote a grant to the Mount Laurel Foundation, requesting $2,000 to cover the cost of the lessons.

"Our request was approved and has now been put to great use," says Shakar. "The four riders who participated in the pilot are now riding in their second eight-week session. They are progressing more and more each lesson. The grant money will be providing an eight-week session for 10 additional riders during the fall months this year."

According to Whitney, who chairs MCLA's Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, the Service Leadership capstone course is unique in that it is based on the assumption that students have the capacity to develop and deliver a significant program of service for their community. 

"The Therapeutic Riding Project created by Amanda and Hannah involved research, planning, collaboration with community partners, grant writing, and the active helping of others," Whitney says. "These skills are the basis for Amanda and Hannah's civic involvement and leadership in the future. The Service Leadership course has recognized these two students' abilities, provided them with a mechanism to act on their service ideals, and supported the notion that public education students are a key source of future civic leaders so necessary to a democratic society."

Prior to taking Whitney's course, neither student had been involved in a similar project.

"We didn't understand how the red tape works in the business world at all," Shakar says. "I learned a lot about how to navigate through the business world of getting things done. I also learned to dream big. I never thought when we started this class that this project would be fully functioning and affect as many people as it has.

"The first-hand knowledge we gained was invaluable," Shakar continues. "I had never dabbled in grant writing before this. I learned how to write a grant and how to deal with huge numbers of people at the same time. The Service Leadership capstone is an inspiring course that opened doors for me that I never thought were available."