RICHMOND, Mass. — Berkshire HorseWorks Inc. has received $10,000 from the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County to support the "Healers and Horses" Program.
The program was created specifically to help local health-care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic acclimate and reintegrate during and after their experiences dealing with the virus. The program's goal is to provide a safe platform where participants can identify, explore and process their feelings in a mutually supportive environment among other health-care workers and family.
Exercises will address trauma, offer outlets for expression and develop positive coping skills healthcare workers can use while still in the midst of the crisis. Berkshire HorseWorks uses the Eagala Model of equine-assisted psychotherapy, which will be used in the "Healers and Horses" program. It integrates horses in ground-based, metaphorical activities and is facilitated by a licensed mental health professional and equine specialist.
Evidence-based, experiential and strength-based, the highly effective modality can be an excellent complement to or replacement for traditional talk therapy when talk therapy is unsuccessful or with populations where communication is difficult, as with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Participants in the program include staff from Volunteers in Medicine, who kicked off the program in July. Berkshire Health Systems Vice President of Human Resources Patrick Borek and Head of Wellness Maureen Daniels have partnered with Berkshire HorseWorks to select participants from different departments within their network.
A combination of families and groups comprise the program, which includes five medical professionals and their families, plus Berkshire Medical Center's Satellite Emergency Facility in North Adams, Macony Pediatrics, and the Berkshire Health Systems Human Resources Department. At present, the "Healers and Horses" program is at capacity.
"Obviously, we are all appreciative of the depth of health-care worker's commitment to our community," said Hayley Sumner, founder and executive director of Berkshire HorseWorks. "Now, with the funding from Berkshire United Way, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and partners, we're able to provide these critical services to those healthcare providers who need help themselves, to allow them to process the potential trauma associated with their work in an emotionally safe environment. Horses facilitate change, and they can really be a conduit to the healing process."
The COVID-19 fund team has rapidly deployed funding and resources to address food insecurity, housing and homeless needs, health and mental health services, and emergency child care and youth services since mid-March when the fund was launched. Grant review has been paused to allow the organizations to assess longer-term needs.
The Berkshire County COVID-19 Fund is a coalition of philanthropy and business partners from across the Berkshires created to support organizations on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Other grantees have included 18 Degrees, Berkshire Community Diaper Project, and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, who have provided meals and services to Berkshire County residents. Representatives from Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, Berkshire United Way, Northern Berkshire United Way and Williamstown Community Chest, as well as community members, were involved in the review process.
"Our health-care workers are facing many challenges on the front lines of this pandemic and we know it is taking a toll on them physically, emotionally and mentally. We appreciate that Berkshire HorseWorks is offering this 'Healers and Horses' program to help essential workers process their feelings during this time," said Candace Winkler, president and CEO of Berkshire United Way.
"We are happy that this program has come together to support our front-line workers," added Karen Vogel, director of community impact at Berkshire United Way.
In addition to foundation funding, revenue earned from ancillary offerings such as Family Team Building, Yoga in the Paddocks, Hikes with Horses, Free-Range Donkey Play, Art at the Ranch, birthday parties, and Trail Ride experiences all help fund programming for those at-risk and without financial means. Berkshire HorseWorks offers the equine-assisted psychotherapy sessions for at-risk youth, veterans, inmates, families and individuals, and team building to local and global organizations. It is part of the Eagala network, a nonprofit organization developed in 1999 to address the need for resources, education and professionalism in the fields of equine-assisted psychotherapy learning.