Philanthropic high school students in Virginia recently donated $14,000 to help the horses and inmates at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) James River facility.
Following months of fundraising, the drive culminated in a 27-hour Deep Run Marathon Dance, which raised funds for 12 charities, including the TRF.
Students, who considered applications from 53 charities, were so impressed by the work the TRF does to help prison inmates and horses through its unique Second Chances program, that they presented the charity with a check to purchase a four-wheel-drive vehicle needed to maintain the farm.
“The donation restores my faith in humanity,” says Anne Tucker, an original founder of the James River chapter of the TRF’s Second Chances program, which teaches inmates life and job skills while caring for retired and unwanted Thoroughbreds. “We wanted a good, solid vehicle more than anything in the world. It’s essential for taking care of horses that are far flung across 100 acres.”
Before choosing the TRF as a beneficiary of the well-known dance marathon, students researched the program and met inmates in person, Tucker says. “Three students came out to the barn and talked with the men, and they also met some of our graduates who have had their lives turned around as a result of the program, and are very, very grateful.”
TRF graduate Will Wilson, who was featured in a film about the Second Chances program (Please see that article here: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2016/02/26/trf-horses-inmates-grace-the-silver-screen/) and Tamio Holmes, who founded his own farrier business after graduating the TRF Second Chances at James River (Please see his story here: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2016/01/07/horses-helped-him-prosper-after-2-prison-stays/) told the students that the program had been a game changer for them, Tucker says, noting, “Will Wilson told them he didn’t know where he’d be in life if it wasn’t for the program.”
Stories like these made a lasting impact on students who are following a 10-year tradition of philanthropy at the Deep Run High School, says health and physical education teacher Kathleen Kern, who also happens to be a marathon dance director.
Kern founded the dance marathon 10 years ago to help raise money for charities and instill a philanthropic spirit in students, she says.
“It teaches students the importance and the amazing feeling they receive from helping people in need,” Kern says. “These kids, when they go through this dance for 27 hours and hear all the stories of people in need, are impacted by the experience. It’s far different than sitting in a lecture hall … it’s an experience that stays with them. I’ve had students go on to found dance marathons at their universities after they graduate, and I had 100 alumni of the dance come back to help me run it.”
Watching the students put so much effort into fundraising was as fulfilling as accepting the check, and purchasing the much-needed vehicle, Tucker says.
For months leading up to the dance, students hosted small fundraiser events and studied the TRF Second Chances Program so well that by the time they arrived on site for a tour, there was nothing new Tucker could add, she says.
“One of the most enthusiastic students was a sophomore named Emma. I started to explain to her all the obstacles our men face when returning to society, and she already understood,” Tucker says. “These kids were so impressive to work with.”
And this week, the shiny, new Kubota four-wheel drive rolled into the driveway at Barn 4 at James River Work Center, a sight for sore eyes.
“I can’t begin to express how thrilled we are,” Tucker says. “Through the years, we’ve had vehicles donated. But a lot of them were on their last legs, or spent a good deal in the shop. To see this new vehicle come in nearly brought tears to my eyes.”