NEWTON TWP. — For the last six years, Marley’s Mission has transformed the lives of children and their families who have experienced trauma through free-of-charge, equine-based therapy.
After agreeing to a partnership in September, the Factoryville-based non-profit Equines for Freedom will offer similar support to current and former United States service members on the grounds of Marley’s Mission at Matt Burne Acres on Eckel Farms.
Marley’s Mission Board President Gene Talerico announced during a grand opening celebration on Nov. 8 an arena that will house Equines for Freedom will be paid for through a Pennsylvania Gaming Local Share Account grant.
“We’re starting a building project next week and it’s due in large part to (state) Sen. Lisa Baker helping us get a grant through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Talerico said. “The arena we will build, which is expected to be completed by Jan. 1, will be designated for Equines for Freedom.”
Baker was thrilled to support Marley’s Mission’s initiative to expand services at its location to help heal veterans, as well as children.
“I visited the facility and was really impressed with the quality of the work and the level of service they were providing to young people,” Baker said. “When Gene Talerico reached out and asked if I would be willing to endorse their project, I said ‘in a heartbeat.’ It’s an outstanding project and I think the way they can expand and continue to serve more people, not just children but our veteran, really fit right in with what I think is a positive mission in the community.”
Kerry Patton, a 14-year veteran of the United States Air Force, spoke about the rising number of suicides among veterans in the United States and believes groups like Marley’s Mission and Equines for Freedom will play a vital role in preventing more tragedies.
“We have 22 veterans taking their lives every single day, on average,” Patton said. “We’re facing a crisis that is an epidemic. If we don’t stop this epidemic now, we’re going to have a serious dilemma on our hands. It’s going to be the local non-profit organizations that are going to fix it. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has a stigma around it. There is nothing wrong with you, except you’ve been diagnosed with the condition. Equines for Freedom is here to help bring the veterans back to being highly-functioning Americans.”
Baker’s commitment to veterans is another reason she is willing to lend her support to the expansion project.
“I chaired the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee for seven and a half years and we’ve really tried to expand programs and services for veterans in Pennsylvania,” Baker said. “We want to turn the tide on that suicide statistic and we’re empowering local communities and organizations to do that through these kinds of programs.”
Changes in the circumstances of some children’s visits also prompted Marley’s Mission to reach out to other organizations to further its service to the community.
“In terms of the work we do with children, it continues to move forward and we continue to see children from all over the region,” Talerico said. “We’ve seen nearly 500 children so far. (Equines for Freedom) was a component that was necessary because we were starting to see more children who had suffered secondary post-traumatic stress, meaning their mom or dad was a PTSD survivor or trying to survive. It was incumbent upon us to find a way to help them help themselves. We began to have discussions about how we can work together for that category of kids and this partnership was perfect.”
Therapist Ann Marie Lewis and equine specialist Heather Stage have been treating children at Marley’s Mission since January and will use an innovative equine facilitated therapy to treat veterans.
Lewis, who is certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and equine-assisted EMDR, believes it’s a miracle tool.
“It’s extremely effective and we’re thrilled to be able to bring this treatment to Marley’s Mission and the veterans,” she said.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.