Story posted October 06, 2004
What does a 32-inch tall mini horse named Lily have to do with Bowdoin College?
It was a Bowdoin College Common Good Grant that brought Lily to the stables of Flying Changes Center for Therapeutic Riding, a Topsham facility that offers services geared toward improving the lives of physically, emotionally, and developmentally challenged people through equine-facilitated therapy.
It all started a few years ago when, thanks to a restricted gift from an anonymous donor, Bowdoin established the Common Good Grant. The purpose of the grant is to teach Bowdoin students about grants and philanthropy, while building a relationship with non-profit organizations in the greater Brunswick community. Now entering its fourth year, the Common Good Grant is administered through the Community Service Resource Center.
Each fall, 12 students are selected to be on the Common Good Grant Committee. This committee meets in November to determine the year's criteria for grant recipients. Applications are sent out to interested organizations, who are also invited to attend a grant-writing workshop in January. The committee reviews all of the applications in the spring and selects the grant recipients, who are presented with checks at the Common Good Grant Awards Ceremony in April. The grants total $10,000 annually, with no individual grant exceeding $2,500.
During its first three years, Common Good Grants were awarded to 22 area agencies, including such diverse service organizations as Habitat for Humanity, Merrymeeting AIDS, Tedford Shelter, Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue, Tri-County Literacy Volunteers, and Arts Are Elementary.
In 2002, one of the grant recipients was Flying Changes. The student committee awarded the organization $1,400 for the purchase of a miniature horse and a carriage for their carriage-driving program. To honor the source of the grant, Flying Changes planned to name the mini horse "Bowdoin."
Flying Changes' grant proposal stood out, according to Kate Leach '04, the 2002 Common Good Grant coordinator.
"Flying Changes deals with animals, social work, and health care all at once," explained Leach. "This makes the organization appealing to give to because it effectively covers a wide range of issues and helps many different types of people. This really impressed the Common Good Grant committee, as did Executive Director Barbara Doughty's dedication to the program and well-organized proposal that demonstrated her ability to make things happen."
Flying Changes already had one mini and carriage, but needed another to meet the needs of the program. And according to Doughty, carriage-driving lessons were just the beginning. Another idea had been stirring in the back of her mind for several years.
"There's a program in Ohio that has a mini horse visiting pediatric wards in hospitals," Doughty said. "I hoped to go out and find a mini with the proper personality for that kind of outreach."
Flying Changes' other mini didn't quite fit the bill. "You look for a connection [between the horse and the person]. A horse that shows an interest in me, a horse that will let me in. Some animals are aloof, and don't relate as well."
The search was on.
Doughty had heard of a mini living in someone's back yard in Bowdoinham. It turned out that this mini, named Lily, had previously done carriage rides at Smiling Hill Farm in Gorham. Fortunately, not only did she already have the experience of working with the public, she also had personality.
Doughty purchased Lily and a carriage with the funds from the Grant.
At a couple hundred pounds, Lily is all black but for a white snip (at the end of her nose). Her one blue eye and one brown eye make her extra special - mismatched eyes is a trait more common in piebald horses. Add a dash of personality, and it was inevitable: Lily became Flying Changes' star.
Just not a star that could change her name.
"We couldn't change her name," Doughty explains. "She's Lily!"
Doughty's dream to launch a program at Flying Changes for animal therapeutic outreach - bringing horses to hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities - now seemed closer to becoming a reality with Lily onboard.
Lily didn't mind being indoors in small spaces. In fact, Doughty trained Lily in her office during the winter. "I was surprised at the horse's level of comfort," she said. "I realized her potential."
But how would she handle visits with strangers in unfamiliar environments? Lily had her "dress rehearsal" at the Mid Coast Senior Center ("The Garden," an assisted living unit). In walked Lily and Doughty. Lily immediately started to "visit" with the residents.
"I was amazed at the joy that resulted from those interactions," said Doughty. She remembers one woman in particular. Lily ambled over, and plopped her tail in the woman's lap. The woman started to stroke Lily, and her face lit up with an "intense happiness. Her husband was so delighted!"
Doughty points out that while dogs and cats are the usual types of animals being used in therapy, horses are just as appropriate. "Some [patients] had horses [earlier in life], so when Lily walks in, there is a real engagement. Color rises in their faces and they break out in big smiles," she said.
"People react at the smell of horses, the smell of the brushes, the smell of their hands after stroking the horses." To see a spark of memory in the faces of these patients "is very powerful stuff."
Lily has also made visits to Bay Square in Yarmouth, in both the assisted living and Alzheimer's units. Needless to say, she was once again a hit with residents and staff.
Ultimately, Doughty would like to win over the reluctance some administrators have shown, and bring Lily into the state's hospitals that currently welcome only therapeutic dogs.
"I've always known the human/animal bond was incredible, and that it would become the lifeline for people I work with," said Doughty.
Lily has proven to be a wonderful partner. She and Doughty even earned certification with the Delta Society, the leading international resource for improving human health through service and therapy animals.
"Lily is the only Delta-certified miniature horse in Maine," Doughty said proudly.
"I'm eternally grateful to the person who gave the money to fund the [Common Good] grant," said Doughty. "It has given Bowdoin students a wonderful opportunity to work in philanthropy, and has made a huge difference in the lives of our clients."
Doughty bred Lily last July with the hopes of having a foal - accordingly to be named Bowdoin - that could be trained to do Lily's outreach work. However, the pregnancy did not result in a live birth.
"Having equine babies is very complicated," Doughty stated.
Flying Changes is currently searching for volunteers with horse-training experience to work with Lily on a regular basis to return her to her pre-pregnancy condition and attitude. She needs to take off about 70 pounds and get back into the swing of working with Flying Changes' clients and going on visits (she recently had a successful "tune up" visit to the Brunswick Naval Air Station's volunteer fair). Interested volunteers may contact Flying Changes at (207) 729-0618; firstname.lastname@example.org.