For many children of substance addicted parents, a healthy lifestyle is a foreign and even seemingly non-existent concept. In their homes, anger, abuse and confrontation are the norm; and feelings are swallowed in an attempt to survive their day-to-day struggles. Fortunately, Horses Healing Hearts, a 501c3 charitable organization, is working to help kids cope with these feelings and relieve some of their burdens so they can pave a healthier future than that of their parents.
“How can society expect these children to grow up and be healthy, productive citizens when they’ve never seen what ‘healthy’ looks like?” shared Lizabeth Olszewski, Executive Director and Founder of Horses Healing Hearts. “They need an example to follow – someone to “model” healthy life skills which they can emulate.”
Having grown up in a home with alcoholic parents, Olszewski has dedicated her career to helping those who are experiencing the same unfortunate childhoods as she did. “In 2008, I was writing a book about the traumatic experiences children of alcoholics go through, but I wanted to help in a different, more creative way,” said Olszewski.
Throughout her own journey, it was Olszewski’s love of horses, along with family and teachers who acted as mentors – allowing her to survive the most difficult years. “I wanted to help children of alcoholics while somehow including what I really love, horses. The idea came to me as I was helping at a hippo therapy center; if equine therapy could help autistic children, why couldn’t it help children of alcoholics?” thought Olszewski. After researching her new idea and finding no such programs existed, Olszewski took the lead and started the Horses Healing Hearts Children’s Program.
The only one of its kind in the nation, the organization’s mission is to educate the children of substance addicted parents on coping skills and introduce them to a healthier lifestyle. Children learn that three very important truths 1) they’re not alone, 2) their parent’s addiction is not their fault, 3) they have the power to create a better life for themselves as a result of the decisions they make daily. The horses are used in many unique ways throughout this process to connect with the children and emphasize these lessons.
Today the program, which began in 2009, has grown from just two children to 52 children, ranging anywhere from age 6 to 18 years old. There is no “aging out” or limit on how long they can be participants in HHH. “Many of these kids ask on the first day, “How long can I stay here? Are you sure you’re going to be here next week? Virtually all of them fear abandonment on some level. Many adults struggle with addiction for several years; consequently, we are here for these children for as long as they need us.”
With the incredible growth of the program, Horses Healing Hearts increased their funding/self-sufficiency by starting an Equine Assisted Growth and Learning (EAGALA) program for adults in recovery. In 2013, the HHH EAGALA Program debuted as a psychotherapy program serving clients in treatment centers across South Florida Unlike Horses Healing Hearts’ Children’s Program, the EAGALA program is fee-based and caters to adults. Although no time is spent riding horses, they are used as metaphors in situations that relate to life experiences. Horses mirror a human’s body language and are very honest animals with their own personalities, making them good messengers.
“The horses help clients get ‘out of their heads’ and in touch with their emotions and their physical body – which is not easy for them. Many have spent several years trying any drug possible to numb emotional and physical pain,” said Olszewski.
The HHH EAGALA Program sessions not only provide an incredible therapy option for those throughout South Florida, but also serve as a revenue stream for the HHH Children’s (non-profit) Program.
Horses Healing Hearts credits much of their success to the host barns that make these programs possible on a weekly basis, dedicated staff and volunteers and of course the “backbone” of the entire program – the horses who are genuine, sensitive, incredibly intuitive, and last but not least– loving….
To learn more about this one-of-a-kind organization or to find out how you can help, visit http://HHHUSA.org or call (561) 713-6133.