I’m just going to be right up front with you, this article is probably going to seem like a love letter to our volunteers at The Right Path, mostly because that’s exactly what it is.
If you have ever volunteered at a nonprofit organization, you know exactly what I’m talking about. People of all ages show up to give their time, energy, and skills, willingly knowing that the only compensation is the joy of serving others. Although if you’re lucky, you might get to witness the difference you’ve made in someone else’s life.
The Right Path has been in operation for over 26 years. The programs are designed to strive consistently to achieve the mission~ “To empower people with disabilities and challenges to reach for their highest potential with the help of a horse.”
During my involvement as a volunteer in the programs over the last decade, and more recently as a full-time employee, I’ve noticed there is one demographic of volunteers that shines a light on its own~our retired crew.
A significant amount of our volunteers are retired from their major roles as nurses, teachers, police officers, mechanics, military, and a variety of other vocations. Together they dedicate themselves to sharing their approach, knowledge, and life experience, continuing to make a positive impact on all those they can reach.
The benefits for participants and other volunteers to be on a team laced with retired professionals and potential mentors is obvious however, my curiosity was aroused~ What’s in it for them?
According to Second Wind Movement (and several other sources), the advantages of volunteering after retirement are exponential. Not only do they get to maintain their sense of purpose (if they choose an organization that is meaningful to them), they put themselves in a position to grow new relationships with people that share their passion. Other benefits include keeping their mind sharp, continuing to learn new skills, promoting happiness and longevity and my personal favorite is the opportunity to bridge generation gaps.
If I stood in the middle of the barn at The Right Path and looked for the brightest light, there would be no doubt that I would be staring directly at Leslie Kirkland. She is a retired physical therapist who has returned from retirement to once again take the reins at The Right Path. This non-profit organization is designed so that there is no cost for riders to participate. The programs William’s Walk (that serves children and adults with disabilities and challenges) and Hooves on the Ground (that serves the Veteran Community), started with her dedication and continues to grow because of her drive to leave a legacy that is about bringing people and horses together as a team, to serve others.
As the Executive Director she has created an environment where the details matter, standards are understood, and applied, as well as reviewed if necessary. Nothing is taken for granted when it comes to the safety of the participants, horses, volunteers, and staff.
If you have ever worked alongside Leslie, you know that “It is all about the kids“, everyone else is just along for the ride. It is a beautiful experience to watch Leslie one on one with a struggling child, riding in the cart behind Bud. Even as the child is asking a hundred questions, she is studying their every move, taking note of their responses, looking for ways to advance their social and cognitive skills, then communicating with a team to make a plan of action and celebrate the progression. She also takes time to grow their life skills, confidence, and self-worth while maintaining her own. All that positivity through teaching them horsemanship.
Armed with a cause, the illumination cast by Leslie, her team of volunteers, and the staff is truly inspiring. It is no wonder that so many retired professionals choose the Right Path as their “make a difference“ destination. As a child, I spent lots of time with my grandparents, soaking up their combined knowledge. Even as the herd of siblings scattered, I gravitated toward my elders. Now as an adult, it has been over 20 years since all of my grandmothers passed on, and our horse whisperer Grandpa Dale Strickland was laid to rest last year.
I believe they would be both happy and proud that I landed at a horse ranch surrounded by volunteers, focused on serving the disabled community and veterans.
I would like to send an abundance of appreciation to the pillars in our community that weren’t satisfied with having acquired knowledge they choose to share it with the next generation.
If you or someone you know is looking for a volunteer home or just seeking purpose. The light is on at The Right Path. Please contact our Volunteer Coordinator Stacy Hagins at (918)352-4110 for all your volunteering opportunities or the website for information on donations, events, or becoming a participant. ~With Love Amanda