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Houston County Courier - Local News

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Serenity Place Youth Saddle Up For Equine Therapy Program


By Alton Porter
Courier Reporter

The 54 boys at Serenity Place, Inc., in Crockett are learning good life skills and positive values to go along with what they're being taught in the classroom through the facility's regular educational program. Thanks to the caring concern and help of a pastor, a couple involved in business and a cowboy who are three of the main forces behind a well-received Equine Therapy Program provided for the facility's young residents. Those three people who are helping make the equine program possible are Pastor-Evangelist Darryl Bennett of Eastgate Family Church; Pete Julian, owner of Julian Insurance Agency; and cowboy Mickey Gaines, who heads up the program. Bennett, who owns Whitehorse Enterprise, and Julian, whose wife is Jeannie Julian, executive director of the Crockett Area Chamber of Commerce, donated the program's seven saddles. The four horses in the program belong to Serenity Place, Inc. Retired County Judge Erin Ford also is a big supporter of the program. Whitehorse Enterprise employee John Dunbar assists Bennett, who also has a Christian ministry at the facility, in his work there. "The purpose of the Equine Therapy Program is to teach the boys responsibility, teach them how to interact; teach them horse safety, riding skills and balance; and teach them how to care for other living things," Bennett said. "There's an old cowboy saying that goes, 'The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man,' because God created the horse." Bennett added, "The kids are interacting well (when participating in the program). They're taught that safety is the first priority of the program. They wear helmets and boots (when riding the horses). They're taught to respect animals. They're learning very well. "We hope to expand it by getting more horses to be able to help more kids at one time. It's a ministry in itself. I'm thankful that God opened the door that my business and my church can be a part of it." He said his and Julian's businesses made it possible for them to donate the saddles. Serenity Place officials are seeking donations of good, gentle horses, Bennett said. "If there are people in the community who want to give horses, it would be a good blessing for the kids," Bennett said. He said the equine program was started several months ago by a company named VisionQuest, which worked strictly with that program. However, Vision- Quest pulled out about a week ago. "So, we're getting the horse program going by donating saddles, and we need horses," he said. "We're building it up so that it will be Serenity Place's Equine Therapy Program. Bennett said Gaines was with VisionQuest for 20-something years. Bennett said he is working with Serenity Place, Inc. co-owner Chris Brown to help strengthen the program. In addition, Bennett said he is "putting together an advisory board for Mr. (Chris) and Mrs. (Wanda) Brown because they have two orphanages in Houston (aside from the Crockett facility that they opened last year)." He said the advisory board is going to include "myself and a group of people we're choosing to work along with Chris and Wanda to help bridge the gap between the community and the facility. "We're trying to get a positive influence. We're trying to get a good name, and trying to get the community involved to interact with the kids." Bennett said he and the Serenity Place, Inc., staff want to prevent people in the community from believing the children at the facility are "just some throwaways or delinquents." "These are young men who have had a very hard time and they need loving from the community," he added. "These are kids who need attention. But, they are not alone. We're here for them. "All of the residents are boys. The girls have been moved, and that makes it easier (to work with them), I think." As chaplain or campus pastor, Bennett said he has an office in the facility's chapel and he usually can be found on campus three days a week – Monday and Wednesday, and for a regular, weekly, hourlong youth worship service Sunday evenings. "I minister the Word of God to the kids and support them," he said. "We've got them coming to church. We're baptizing some. We take a church bus to the facility. My congregation has been involved ever since the facility opened. It's going very well." Bennett explained he serves as a link between the community, the churches and the facility., helping to facilitate those interactions with the youth. As for the facility's operations in general, Bennett said his observations lead him to conclude, "Serenity is progressing very well. It's a very healthy atmosphere. God has opened the door and given favor to the program. It's really being effective in helping prepare boys for the future. So, I see very positive results. We're very hopeful for greater things to come."


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