PARKTON — A local licensed social worker has opened her home in order to help military members cope with trauma, and hopes a new grant will help her serve more.
Heather Wilkerson, president of Hope-thru-Horses Inc., started the organization in 2005 to help service members cope with trauma through equine therapy. In 2018, Wilkerson and her husband bought the property in Parkton where they now live and offer hope through the organization at 1860 Armory Road.
Recently, Wilkerson was able to gain access to funding from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, which has helped Hope-thru-Horses offer free equine therapy sessions to 30 military service members since January.
The money dispensed through EAGALA covers the cost of eight therapy sessions per service member at Hope-thru-Horse. EAGALA reimburses the cost of therapy sessions through a $637,700 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Adaptive Sports Grant. The funding will end on Sept. 31, if the grant is not renewed.
“The VA grant offers a unique opportunity for military families to participate in this unique treatment without the documentation demands of managed care,” Wilkerson said.
Service members need only call and make an appointment to participate in a therapy session, she said. Members who are experiencing issues such as problems concentrating or sleeping, trauma, anger, or financial stress can qualify. All members must be pre-approved through EAGALA after booking an appointment with the organization.
Service members can also bring family members to sessions.
“We have found the family piece to be a great way to rekindle bonds lost due to the rigorous military lifestyle, to include deployments,” she said.
During the sessions, veterans can interact with horses and find commonalities with the animals, Wilkerson said. Sessions are facilitated by a licensed therapist, licensed clinical social worker and equine specialist.
Interacting with animals outdoors offers a deeper connection and opportunity for service members than traditional office visits, Wilkerson said. And she hopes to see many more service members visit.
“We have a ton of slots that could be used to serve service members,” she said.
The organization, situated on 30 acres of land, also is home to more animals, including two llamas, three donkeys, a miniature mule, seven horses, five dogs, five potbellied pigs and two parrots, Wilkerson said.
“If the client wants to hang out with the pigs, that’s what we’ll do,” Wilkerson said with a laugh.
Wilkerson believes deeply in helping others work through trauma, and understands the mission well. Her husband Chris retired after 22 years of service in the U.S. Army, and she takes the experience as a chance to engage with others and provide an outlet for healing.
The organization also is open to civilians, and sessions are covered by Medicaid.
For more information, visit www.hthi.us.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]