Project R.I.D.E.Community Partner Spotlight, March 2009
For nine years, Sacramento State service learning students have partnered with Project R.I.D.E., a non- profit organization in Elk Grove that has provided therapeutic horseback riding lessons to children and adults with special needs since 1979.
The Sac State students who volunteer with Project R.I.D.E. represent a variety of academic disciplines: Child Development; Nursing; Recreation, Parks, Tourism Administration; Computer Science; and the Biological Science departments. In 2008/2009, 85 Sac State students chose placements with Project R.I.D.E. These students are future teachers, administrators, principals, health professionals, business leaders, counselors, legislators, and directors of community organizations. Often, a partnership with Project R.I.D.E. is students’ first and only exposure to the real concerns of the special needs population and the integral ways in which community resources address these concerns.
As Sac State students assist in the improvement of both cognitive and motor function of the special needs students, the partnership shapes Sac State students’ awareness of the special needs population, increases empathy, and allows students to meet a variety of discipline specific learning objectives. Often, the partnership with Project R.I.D.E. bridges a gap between the clinical and practical aspects of their desired fields.
According to Marisa Desalles, Volunteer Coordinator for Project R.I.D.E., the partnership with Sacramento State allows Project R.I.D.E. to sustain and enhance its program. Of all the volunteers, “Sac State students, in particular, with their high degrees of enthusiasm and motivation, have a direct impact on both the special needs population and the other staff and volunteers as well.”
The physical and emotional value of Project R.I.D.E.’s work is immense, as “therapeutic riding for people with a disability provides a unique opportunity to improve balance, posture, flexibility, sensory awareness and endurance in addition to increasing confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline, motivation, attention span and integration with non-disabled peers” (Project R.I.D.E. website).
For Sac State students, the value is as immense. Michael Massoud, a Sac State Senior studying Pre Med Biology taking Biological Sciences 184: General Genetics summed up his service learning experience:
“This is one of the most valuable, and rewarding experiences I have had through my college education. Prior to entering the program I was apprehensive about working with developmentally disabled children as I had no experience with them. I was afraid, nervous of their defects to be honest, their unpredictability and my inability to help them. To make matters worse I’ve never worked with a horse and was scared of their size and power. Those fears instantly vanished the moment I held hands with my first rider, a special child from the Jessie Baker School. I knew that everything was going to be fine. In a few short weeks at Project R.I.D.E. my appreciation of these children grew exponentially; I love the staff, the horses and especially the children with whom I work. I’ve been presented with such a unique opportunity to befriend the kids and meet the amazing people who run such a wonderful program. I’ve begun to formulate myself into a leader and now am trained to lead horses during lessons and I love every minute of it. This unique program made me step out of my comfort and realize how amazing these children truly are. This is such a valuable program and what it does to the volunteers and children is invaluable, it gives such a rewarding experience and teaches so many lessons and allows the children to connect in ways not typically possible.
Project R.I.D.E. is an exemplary service learning community partner with Sac State. This long term partnership has provided Sac State students with a classroom outside the classroom, one in which many continue to volunteer after they complete their service learning hours. Collaboratively, Project R.I.D.E. and Sac State students continue to make lasting imprints in our communities, enhancing the lives of hundreds of special needs children and adults in the Sacramento area each year.
Each year, more than two thousand Sacramento State students, faculty, staff, and alumni participate in programs and projects sponsored by Community Engagement Center. Programs such as Alternative Break, AmeriCorps Students in Service, Sac State Serves, and Service Learning fulfill our mission to facilitate learning and engagement by linking campus and community for mutual benefit. Through Spotlight, Community Engagement Center will highlight outstanding individuals and programs advancing community engagement in the Sacramento region.