Featured Story: Vaughn Family

Every year, we love sharing stories from our community. Typically these stories come from clients and volunteers who have been impacted by our services as participants. But our community also includes 41 staff members (and their families) who both provide services and are impacted by them every day. Micah Vaughn (who previously practiced under the name MerriBeth Vaughn), Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning, and creator of our Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy program, is one such staff member.

When did you come to Forward Stride, and how has it impacted your life?

I first started as a volunteer in 2009 – partly because I hadn’t had horses in my life with any regularity for several years and missed it – and partly because I was thrilled to discover that therapeutic horsemanship was a thing! It definitely had an impact on my career choice because I started as a volunteer the same month I started my graduate counseling program.

Amber and I had been talking, basically from the moment that I got to know her, about how we needed a mental health program at Forward Stride. So I was making some transitions in my career right at the moment where she and Amanda approached me about helping Forward Stride start a mental health program. I said yes, and the rest is history.

You’ve talked about the impact Forward Stride has had on you, personally. What kind of impact has it had on your family?

I think [raising a family in this community] is very good. My son has struggled with anxiety off and on, and being in vaulting during that time helped him learn some tools to deal with that. Being able to celebrate ways that he could be brave was really helpful to him, and it gave him confidence that he could do things that other kids in his class at school couldn’t do. For our daughter, similarly, it’s made her more confident knowing that she can run and jump and do all the things that her big brother does.

Our daughter had a rough start in life, so it is especially meaningful for me to see her take part in something challenging.  And she not only does it, she excels and can keep up with all the other kids! My husband is not a horse person, but he always happily comes to events and spends time here. In his mind, horses are just giant cats and he gets to pet them.

Our theme for this year’s end-of-year giving drive is “Fulfilling Potential.” This means different things to different people and manifests in different ways. Does this idea resonate to you in any way in regards to your intersection with Forward Stride?

Yes, in a variety of ways. I definitely find it, personally, very gratifying to see my students and clients strive toward their own potential. That’s something special that happens here, and it’s a little different than what you see anywhere else. I could go be a riding instructor somewhere else and I could go be (and I have been) a therapist sitting in an office somewhere, but I think this community is something special. People stick around for long periods of time. I appreciate that we get to see people from our Clinical Services programs transfer into the Riding Program and see how they continue to learn and grow. In mental health, you don’t get to know how somebody’s doing after they stop seeing you, and while it’s not all the time, when I see someone I’ve worked with here, I’m pleased to know they’re thriving. The rest of the time in mental health you just cross your fingers and have a fond hope for somebody and most of the time you would never ever see them again. Here I might see somebody in their riding lesson, and just walk on by, but be happy that I know they’re still here and still enjoying their time with horses. I think that’s wonderful.

Do you have any favorite memories or last thoughts you’d like to share?

Sometimes on my day off [our family] will all jump in the car and come out to the barn just because we all want some horse time, or to see if there are any frogs in the pond. It’s nice to have a place for that. That’s been beneficial to our family because it’s different than going to a park or a nature preserve. We joke sometimes about the staff kids getting a little wild. I think it’s because this is like home for them.

Our Vaulting Program is wonderful for fostering confidence and teamwork skills in youth. A donation of $200 could purchase additional covers for our vaulting equipment to keep it in good condition for many years to come.