Wellington, FL – January 11, 2012 – It could be their charming smiles or the musical notes in their laughter, but one thing is for certain: children capture our hearts. There are 28 million children of alcoholics living among us, but there is only one organization that brings their smiles into full fruition: Horses Healing Hearts. Using equine experiential learning, Liz Olszewski has created a program that uses horses as positive mentors to help children learn from the gentle giants and understand life, themselves and how to cope with their parents’ addiction to substance abuse.
The non-profit organization, founded in September 2009 by Liz Olszewski of Wellington, FL, helps ease the pain of kids growing up in a home riddled with substance abuse. Horses Healing Hearts (HHH) provides these children with the opportunity to help heal emotionally by working with horses while having fun and learning positive life-coping skills, responsibility and confidence.
“They are the only organization in the nation at the time doing this,” President of Phelps Media Group International Mason Phelps said. “It is amazing how far they have grown, and we are hoping to take them even further.”
Olszewski’s stepfather was an alcoholic throughout her adolescence, but he became sober when Olszewski was 12. That was when she began learning about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The man, who had once caused her bittersweet memories, soon became her mentor. He was the opposite of who he had once been, and it was his idea to send her to visit her aunt in Pennsylvania one summer. That was where she was first introduced to the love a horse can provide.
“My aunt had rescued a young mustang and spent a lot of time developing and bonding with him,” Olszewski explained. “That was the first time I ever really was involved with horses. I saw this horse, and I saw all these parallels – between his scars on the outside and mine on the outside. He survived and went on to accomplish great things; I hoped I could have the same fate. I knew I wanted to be with horses, and use them to make a difference for me and for others.”
Years passed, and she used her past experiences to write excerpts about her traumatic past. She knew that she wanted to help people, and after volunteering with a therapeutic riding program, she saw a true connection for equine experiential learning. She realized that she could use the horses with an entirely different demographic, the children of alcoholics.
Horses Healing Hearts began as an idea, as many successful programs do, but it was an idea that held steadfast and provided results. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” Olszewski laughed. “People were so afraid of labels and how the children and parents would feel regarding the stigma attached to alcoholism and substance abuse.”
Horses Healing Hearts currently works out of three sponsor barns, one in Wellington, one in Delray Beach and one in Boca Raton. With the equestrian community of Wellington, FL, so nearby, it is no wonder that the jewels of South Florida are able to help the children of addicts. Olszewski works tirelessly every day to bring attention to the cause of Horses Healing Hearts. Alongside Randy Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miss Florida USA 2012 Karina Brez, and one of the original co-founders of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics Phil Diaz, Horses Healing Hearts has continued to raise awareness and benefit the children.
“Delray Beach is known as the recovery capital for substance abuse,” Olszewski stated. “With this resource so close and the winter equestrian capital, Wellington, in our backyard, it seems like such a natural marriage and birthplace for HHH and all that we’re trying to accomplish. We have world-renowned experts from both fields at our fingertips. We feel very fortunate, and they’ve been very gracious and giving.”
Every weekend, HHH holds sessions at their respective sponsor barns. At Horses Healing Hearts, children learn skills like setting boundaries, teamwork, dealing with their emotions, the importance of routines and how to minimize risk around horses as well as in their daily lives. Each weekend, they learn to groom and tack up a horse, and each child receives a 15-minute private riding lesson. While some are riding, others are led through a weekly curriculum about coping skills and boundaries.
Funds to operate Horses Healing Hearts come from donors and grants. “It is coming in. As more people get to know us and support us, it is definitely growing. We’re very grateful. “Our goal is to one day have our own place.”
She says the children need consistency in their lives and she doesn’t want to let them down. “We’ll get there,” she smiled. “It’s like I tell the kids, anything worth having is worth working for.”
Kendall Bierer for Phelps Media Group, Inc. International