Small Winston-Salem Heroes Help Abused Horses
Often, children are told they have to wait until they're adults to make a real impact on the world. But in Winston-Salem, students at Meadowlark Elementary School know they can make a difference right now.
In 2005,Hurricane Katrina devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Cuba. Relief efforts poured in from around the country, including from the Triad. And some of it came from fifth graders at Meadowlark Elementary School in Winston-Salem.
“My children came in and brought their stuff, we had a yard sale and I believe we made $900 that year,” says Martha Bethel, a fifth grade teacher at Meadowlark. This yard sale was held in-house and was only open to Meadowlark students. A few years later, she helped organize fifth grade students again to raise money for survivors of the 2009 Haiti earthquake. Bethel says it’s a win-win for everyone. "They go home and clean out their closets and from under their beds and find book, dolls, trucks and toys. We only sell to children and everything has to be priced from $1-$5 and we make insane loot selling children’s stuff to children. And it’s great fun.” Then Bethel thought it would be more child-centered to put the notion in the children’s heads to seek out charities in the community, helping people here at home- and the children really enjoy it.
In 2010, the school incorporated into the fifth grade curriculum an ‘essay/yard sale’ project focusing on area charities. Each student writes an essay on the charity of their choice. From about 115 essays, teachers select the best written one representing each fifth grade class. Then these youngsters pitch their charity to the entire fifth grade student body. All of the children select one charity that will benefit from their now-annual yard sale. This year, the class picked 10-year-old Hannah Smith’s essay about Hero, Incorporated. “I wanted to do Hero because I’m a really big horse lover and I just think it is not good when people abuse and neglect the horses and I want to put an end to that,” she says. Hannah rides at Irish Oaks, where she learned about HERO, the acronym for Horse Education and Rescue Organization.The group uses a barn just a few miles down the road from Meadowlark Elementary. HERO President and Barn Manager Leslie Hunt led me into a large outdoor pen. The ground is muddy and we step carefully to avoid cluster piles of orange-sized horse manure. Formed in 2007, this Winston-Salem based non-profit provides a safe haven, medical treatment and rehabilitation for horses, mules and donkeys. Currently they’re caring for three horses. Indicating the first horse, Hunts says, “Her name is Lela, Swahili for grandma. And she’s 21. She’s a good girl.” Lela is a bit skittish as we approach. Her ears stand at attention and slightly forward as she defensively steps back from my microphone. She was rescued 6 months ago. Hunt reassures her by gently patting the quarter horse’s golden brown winter coat. “We think she may have been in a trailer wreck, she can’t turn her head much yet. And let me show you here.” While walking toward her tail, Hunt lightly taps Lela’s left side and then points to a moist, red open wound on her left hip. “See this, bed sore is from having to lie down all of the time because everything was sort of a mess. And one of the vets called to see if we could take her, and we did. You could see her backbone and ribs when she came. But she’s doing well.” Lela appears to agree, grabbing a mouth full of hay from the pile in the center of her pen, she contently chews. Lela’s 14 hands high and weighs about 850 pounds. According to Hunt, she should weigh at least a thousand. Most of these animals are legally seized from their owners because of neglect, though others were abandoned. So for their safety, HERO keeps the equines in a remote, undisclosed location.This work is why Hannah says she wanted to give a big donation to HERO. And with the help of her classmates, the fifth grade class raised $2,558.61. Last week, Hunt accepted the donation from the young equestrian. She says the group is extremely grateful. “It means so much to say we can buy some hay instead of hoping someone will donate hay. Very often donated hay is last year’s hay or two-year-old hay and it’s moldy. Horses can’t eat moldy hay, it’ll make them sick.” Meanwhile, HERO is a hit with several Meadowlark fifth graders. Chris Boyd says he liked the HERO organization because it talked about saving horses, "and that's your pet, almost the love of your family." "I wanted to be involved,” explains Niya Grant, “because I like helping animals. So now I'm volunteering with HERO, helping some of the horses there." As for Hannah, she’s plans to spend a lot of time with these beautiful creatures. "I want to go to the Olympics to compete in Hunter Jumper," she says. After the games, she wants to own a horse barn and be a trainer.