“I’m not touching a horse! No way!” Those were the first words spoken by Jeremy, a tough, street-smart kid from the east side of Cleveland. The other young men from the same neighborhood nodded in agreement and in unison stepped away from the horses. “Come on you guys. You can do it!” coaxed the volunteers holding the horses’ reins.
What brought them to this moment? These 12 young men chose to participate in a program last Friday that Footpath Foundation held in conjunction with Common Ground and Fieldstone Farms. That decision brought these young men to this horse barn in rural Ohio about an hour outside of Cleveland. The program? Learning to care for horses and participate in a workshop called “World View”. The purpose was to provide new experiences and challenges outside of their usual world and then share together during the enrichment workshop.
This new experience scared them. Stepping up to a horse, petting the huge animal and then grooming the horses terrified these “tough” kids from the inner city. But slowly and reluctantly each young person built up enough courage to poke the horse with a finger. Then, with encouragement from the volunteers and each other, they started petting them, and before long they were grooming the horses. Each one of them had a huge smile. They had overcome their fear and had done something new and challenging.
While petting and grooming a horse may not seem like a big deal for many of us, it was for these young men. Even walking into the barn was an experience for them, as the barn smell emanated the air when we entered. A smell that led them to cover their noses and grimace. It was a smell they had never known before. Let’s step back and think about their experiences compared to many of us reading this blog. When you live in a city or suburb how often do you encounter a farm animal? Well, never, unless you have the opportunity to go to a farm or someone brings a pony or petting zoo to you. Now, in more affluent areas, this isn’t far fetched. You may pay for your kids to go on a field trip, to attend a special event at the community center, or maybe even have a petting farm come to your home for a birthday party. But, if you live in a less affluent area, these opportunities are not available. So, even though the youngest kid there was 12 years old and the oldest young man was 23, only one of them had ever been near a horse, let alone touched one. So while these “tough guys” have likely encountered different situations that many of us have not, they have never encountered the countryside or farm animals.
Why does this matter? Because experiences give us new perspectives. Because new opportunities allow us to feel differently and understand more about ourselves and of the unknown world around us.
During the Worldview Workshop that followed the horse leading and grooming experience, we were asked to create a timeline of our life. The directions were to put the memorable positive events on the top of the horizontal line and the memorable negative events on the bottom of the line. We all sat quietly and began to write. As I reflected upon my own life, I felt extremely grateful, and admittedly, also guilty. Looking around the room, I could see most of their events fell below the line, while most of my life events were on the top of that horizontal line. I’ve grown up with a privileged lifestyle. I’m a white female, who grew up in the suburbs, with two married parents and endless opportunities. I try to remember this every day, as I’m extremely grateful and TRY not to take things for granted. But, sitting in the room with these young men who were filling their timetables with events that mostly fell below the horizontal line, it was clear that even with my awareness and acknowledgement of my privilege, there is still so much I take for granted. Nearly all of them had painful events, including loss of parents, siblings, and friends. Every day, I experience life differently than these boys and young men.
In the workshop, led by Ken and Lydia from Common Ground, we discussed how life views differ based on experience. We explored how each of our experiences differ, and consequently, our views of the world differ. In acknowledging this, we determined our life views should not be judged, but recognized as an opportunity to use our experiences to our individual and collective benefit. We took time to reflect on how all the events in our timelines have shaped us and will continue to do so. We decided that it is our job to choose HOW these events will mold our future.
As I sat listening, I thought about their path to success compared to my own. The sheer contrast to the events above and below our respective timelines was eye-opening – positive vs negative experiences. They have unique hurdles to overcome on their way to the top that I never had to endure. I didn’t face racism. I didn’t face poverty. I didn’t face gang pressure. My path to success was indeed much less rocky. My path was like a flat concrete sidewalk with a few cracks in it. Their path is more like a loose rock overgrown mountain trail.
Footpath is committed to connecting kids with nature while equipping them with the skills necessary to overcome their unique hurdles – to gain solid footing on a rocky path. Everyone has different hurdles in life. Our goal is to give kids meaningful experiences from which they learn, grow, and unlock hidden potential.
-Mary Macias, Co-founder