Lenelle Scholl has always been interested in horses, but it was when she saw the impact horses had on children with intellectual and developmental challenges that she strove to create a program which would make a difference in those children's lives.
Scholl created the non-profit Scholl Community Impact Group in 2010 after she saw one of her horses take to a little boy with autism.
"We started working with children with autism and through a little boy who won my heart over and my horse acknowledged that little boy more than any of the other kids and we started the not-for-profit," Scholl explained.
Scholl said one of her reasons for starting the nonprofit was the lack of resources north of Wausau. Growing up in Winchester, Scholl saw firsthand how northern Wisconsin is often ignored.
"We need everybody to understand, anything north of Wausau is kind of forgotten and, hey folks, we need resources and we need funding and we need help, because we do have families who need help and we're trying to draw more attention to our area," Scholl conveyed.
The nonprofit's goal is to improve the lives of kids with mental disabilities and at-risk children in the area. To help both groups of people, Scholl Community Impact Group is split into two divisions.
The two divisions
The first division is Riders in Motion, which helps at-risk children gain confidence, practice respect and learn responsibility.
"We have Riders in Motion, which is a mentoring program for kids with, maybe, behavioral issues, self-confidence, discipline, that kind of thing," Scholl explained.
The second division is Blazing a New Trail, Autism Support Group, which looks at autistic people, as well as others with different diagnoses, through new eyes to increase communication, interaction and confidence. This group also strives to increase autism awareness in the community.
Scholl Community Impact Group works with people from Oneida, Vilas, Iron and Gogebic counties, as well children from Lac du Flambeau and Lakeland Union High School.
"Now we are Scholl Community Impact Group Equine Assisted Therapy and we work with 22 kids from Lakeland Union High School, so this will be our second year and they come out three days a week when it's warm enough," Scholl explained. "It's phenomenal. The kids are learning so much social skills, appreciation, following rules, schedules, helping one another and the teachers have seen a huge difference in the social skills because my horses won't do anything unless you say, 'Please move over,' and when they say, 'Thank you,' when they're done and, at first, a lot of people don't get that but my horses are very, 'You say please or thank you or I'm not going to do it.' Once the kids are getting that idea it goes to other things back at school and at home."
The positive effects of working with horses are expansive and differ depending on the person.
Scholl explained that horses are incredibly forgiving, making work with children who may hit or are unsure of how to react around animals much more manageable.
"Horses are the most forgiving animal God ever created and because they're big a lot of people are afraid of them, but because they're big they don't have anything to prove," Scholl explained. "I've had violent kids hit a horse ... and the horse goes, 'Did you get that fly?' because a horse's hide is very thick and so a lot of times your smacking horseflies to kill the flies and the horses don't think anything of it ... Pretty soon, there's no altercation so that child no longer hits, they start hugging."
Recognizing the diverse needs of every student who passes through her barn, Scholl explains that there is not one set lesson plan. Every student gets their own lesson plan based off of their own personal needs.
"We put a lesson plan for each student because the needs are so all over the charts," Scholl conveyed. "We have some kids that don't speak and the horses become their friend because the horse is the therapy and they make friends with my horses because horses are very personal."
Working with animals in person also accelerates the communication process of students who may be nonverbal or have trouble speaking.
"When they have a name and a personality with a dog or a horse they bond quicker and they work harder because they want to make that animal their friend, and my animals respond, so it's huge," Scholl expressed.
Typically, Scholl's horses only respond to verbal commands in an effort to aid those who have trouble communicating, however, Scholl said her horses have been learning sign language to aid those who are deaf and mute.
"We have one little boy ... he can't hear and he was born without eyes," Scholl said. "So, my horse was learning sign language because he (the boy) would sign then we would tell Rony, 'This is the sign, so now you can go.' He (the boy) has hearing devices now and now he is starting to have to use his words, so he's forming, 'Go.'"
Although Scholl and her volunteers see vast improvements, the improvements do not happen overnight and it often takes much encouragement.
One of Scholl's philosophies is there is no such thing as 'I can't.'
"There is no such thing in our program at the farm as 'I can't', it's 'I will try' and then we say, 'Oh, look at that, you're doing it,'" Scholl explained.
As well as having an immediate impact in their outside lives, Scholl said what the students learn at the barn can be used to ease the transition into life outside of high school.
"After high school there's really nothing for these kids," Scholl said."
"The horse business - there's always stalls to clean, there's always hay to unload, there's always sawdust to put in, there's alway tack to clean and even though a lot of other people would just go, 'That's a meaningless job.' It's not, it's important," Scholl continued. "It's important to the horse, it's important to the barn and the tack. They take pride in doing those jobs and they do them well. It's a necessity."
Scholl said it is hard to describe the exact impact the group has on the students, volunteers and Scholl herself.
"The technical description of what the program does - I'd rather do from here," Scholl said, pointing to her heart. "Because when they smile or they say a word, or laugh, it says it all, or look what I did, I'm on a horse. Technical words, yeah they're there, but ..."
Scholl Community Impact Group has people ranging from age two to age 31 and is always looking for volunteers.
"Everybody that's involved in the program does it from the heart," Scholl expressed. "No one gets paid, its all volunteer.
"... I give everyone a warning, if you once get involved, you are never going to know what you get to do and it all just blows your heart away."
A Night for Kids
During the winter months, the Blazing a New Trail program focuses on educating the community on autism and working with autistic individuals.
"People need to know, they (autistic individuals) can't control themselves if something set them off," Scholl explained. "So, in my own way, I want to get more forgiveness in the community. It's not your normal program, but we're trying to make differences."
To continue these educational programs, as well as send families to the Wisconsin Autism Conference and helping Wisconsin Family Ties, Scholl Community Impact Group puts on a fundraiser.
This year, A Night for Kids, presented by Scholl Community Impact Group will be held at White Oak Grill at the Chippewa Retreat in Manitowish Waters on Jan. 27.
On average, the fundraiser raises anywhere between $19,000 and $21,000 in a night.
"With that we've helped families go to the Wisconsin Autism Conference who couldn't afford to go, we'll pay for them to go to it, for the conference itself, or we will help Wisconsin Family Ties, which is Jackie Baldwin in Arbor Vitae, and we work with that group and we help bring in - they do The Waters Family Fun Day - and we help sponsor some of the speakers ... We're trying to create education for special needs," Scholl said.
The tickets are $50 per person and includes the meal price and an entry for a door prize. Cash bar begins at 5 p.m. and dinner starts at 6 p.m.
The night will include a live auction, silent auction, 50/50 raffle, a slideshow of the children and parents of children who participate in the program speaking on behalf of the positive impact.
Space is limited, so reserve a seat no later than Jan. 14.
All donations, including the ticket price, are tax deductible. Dinner options are chicken breast stuffed with wild rice and gouda cheese with herb cream, pork chop with brandius cranberry glaze or salmon with lemon butter sauce.
For more donate or RSVP, contact Lenelle at 715-493-3534 or Nancy at 715-686-2201.
For more information visit schollcommunityimpactgroup.org or Facebook.com/ schollcommunityimpactgroup.
Abbey McEnroe may be reached via email at email@example.com.