Western students volunteer with animal therapy in Bellingham - The Western Front: News

Western students volunteer with animal therapy in Bellingham

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Posted: Friday, June 7, 2013 7:00 am

Western Washington University students are making a difference at a local riding center, which is designed to offer horseback riding lessons as therapy for people with disabilities. 

The Northwest Therapeutic Riding Center is looking for volunteers for their upcoming seven-week summer session.

The center provides people of all ages with activities and therapies dedicated to enriching physical, mental, emotional and the social well-being in a safe environment, according to their website.

Ginger Dunham is a volunteer at the center who graduated from Western with a degree in behavioral neuroscience, which she said influenced her decision to volunteer. 

“The behavioral neuroscience major got me passionate about serving people, especially people with health complications,” Dunham said in an email. 

Dunham said she found the riding center when she started looking for organizations that were making a difference.

Volunteers support the riders and care for the horses, Julia Bozzo, director and volunteer coordinator at the riding center, said in an email. Communication during the lessons is also important, she said.

“Some of our volunteers know sign language, which is invaluable to many of our riders,” Bozzo said.

The riding center requires three volunteers for each rider, or up to 14 volunteers a day. 

Western students from several different majors volunteer at the center. These majors include education, psychology, pre-vet, pre-med, recreation and speech and communication, Bozzo said.

“Through volunteering at [the center], Western students are able to apply and witness knowledge from their classroom transform into real-world experiences and skills,” Bozzo said. 

Dunham started as a volunteer at the riding center in March 2012. By the time she graduated from Western that spring with a degree in behavioral neuroscience, she had decided to stay at the center. As of March 2013, she is an instructor-in-training and volunteers around 25 hours a week.

“The way I think about chemicals and neurons and disorders is definitely a great background to have, and yet I am reminded every day that people are not textbooks,” she said. “No formula works 100 percent of the time in this line of work.”

Many people, regardless of their major, can find a way to apply what they learn to their studies and day-to-day lives, Bozzo said.

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