by Guy Thompson
High school students from Merit Learning Center in Goshen have been tackling a service project, working with LoveWay Therapeutic Equestrian Services since last September. Recently, students were out on the wooded sensory trail installing four mini-environments.
The mini-environments are colorful, visual spots that have been themed to look like a campsite, a garden, the ocean, and one centered around the LoveWay logo. Executive Director Eric Pianowski said the sensory trail “helps to give an enjoyable ride. Riders can use their senses, visual and tactile.” Instructors point things out along the trail ride, which engages the riders and enhances the ride.
“Merit looked around at non-profits to do a service project,” Pianowski said. They contacted LoveWay and talked about ways they could help give the riders a good experience.
As part of the lesson, Pianowski talked to the students about the differences between profit and non-profit organizations and what they saved LoveWay by volunteering their time and talents. “That’s money I can give back to the program” Pianowski said.
Merit teacher Brian Warrell and his students looked at the sensory trail and wondered “what can we do to jazz it up and make it interesting for the riders?” Warrell said. He got with Merit art teacher Suzanne Juday to come up with ideas.
Students came up with ideas and worked with mostly recycled and repurposed items to create the four locations along the trail. Brightly colored paint makes each section stand out among the trees. “Juday came up with the themes and the students found the items and did the painting,” Warrell stated.
Throughout the school year, students would come out to LoveWay to clear the trail and put down mulch. They worked inside over the winter to create the items for the mini-environments and on April 11 the students, 23 in all, came out in the morning and afternoon to set up the environments.
“The students really enjoy it,” Warrell noted. “They understand the program and how we help. Sometimes, the volunteer time is more valuable than handing over a check.”
And, as the students finished their work, that volunteer time looks a lot more colorful, too.