Area nonprofits getting back on track

Jane Terry, Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding staff member, with STAR horse Sampson, waves to families driving by in the parade.

Nonprofits in the area are resuming services after coronavirus concerns forced them to halt fundraising efforts and other aspects of business.

Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding hosted a fundraising parade June 30 in an effort to collect money and items for its upcoming auction. The parade saw about 100 people attend with a steady trickle of cars, Lynn Petr, STAR executive director, said.

The parade also offered STAR students an opportunity to safely visit with their favorite horses while they are unable to ride due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The parents seemed to be as thrilled as the kids,” Petr said. “Just kind of glad to be back on campus and, you know, can’t wait to really get back and get on a horse, but this is the next best thing that we could offer. A lot of people made donations, which we’re so grateful for. It’s been a rough spring/summer. So that was really delightful that not only were they bringing items for the auction to make auction baskets, but they were also making donations.”

Items donated ranged from new kitchen utensils, artwork and a homemade quilt. The items will be sorted and placed in baskets to be auctioned at the Bridles and Blue Jeans event, which has been twice pushed down the calendar, Petr said. As of now, the event is scheduled for Sept. 19.

Being a nonprofit, more than a quarter of STAR’s income comes from events, and this is the first event so far this year. Six previously scheduled events have been canceled or postponed.

Another quarter of STAR’s income comes from riding lessons, which weren’t held through March, April and May. Lessons were able to resume under heavy restrictions in June.

“We had 10 participants for the month of June, because they were independent and didn’t have to have someone right there with them, so we could still do the social distancing,” Petr said. “That was wonderful, but it’s only 10 students. We usually have 150 a week. So July we’re bringing back our students that can just use a horse leader. So we can still kind of stay social distanced, students that are a little more involved, and I think we have about 23 of them a week.”

STAR will be starting other programs soon like Changing Strides and Minis in Motion.

Petr said STAR has received more private donations than usual during the pandemic. She believes people have realized STAR needs their help now more than ever.

“The horses still have to be cared for,” she said. “It’s not like you can lock up shop, turn out the lights and leave. It’s twice a day there’s still caring that has to happen. The fields still have to be mowed. Maintenance still has to happen. Our staff is still here, and they need to be paid as well as insurance. Just all the regular stuff we have cut back so drastically in our budget, utilities, not buying anything frivolous at all right down to staff shirts.”

Mike Kitchens, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs chairman, said the pandemic has affected all operations. New procedures have been put in place to keep volunteers, trainers and veterans safe.

When volunteers are picking up a dog for a day of socializing, they remain in their car and bring their own leashes, so there’s no interaction with the trainer. After matching a dog to a veteran, the veteran used to spend up to two weeks in training with the dog. Kitchens said now the veterans complete the first week of training virtually and spend 3-5 days finishing training in person.

“On other aspects, we have had a number of fundraisers that people do for us,” he said. “They have been appropriately canceled. We are also looking at the fundraisers that we do for our self and making adjustments, either canceling or doing virtual fundraisers. That’s had an impact also. Obviously, everyone’s concerned and personal donations are down but we continue to be in a solid position where we can continue to do what we do which is serve the wounded veterans.”

Despite the restrictions, SMSD is expecting to place two dogs in July and two dogs in August. However, there will be no “passing of the leash” ceremony, which typically gathers 300-400 people at the Community Church at Tellico Village to watch the veteran and his dog graduate from training together and honor the volunteers and donors who helped make it happen.

Cindy Black, Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County executive director, said the center has continued its food services in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. Other services such as rent and utility assistance were suspended for about a month. All services are now up and running and can be handled over the phone since the center is not allowing clients to enter the building.

“Once the dental offices opened back up, we were once again able to assist our clients with dental services through our dental partners,” Black said. “But it was a little bit of a learning curve for all of us as we developed plans to serve our clients with the utmost care and safety for our volunteers and staff.”

She said the center has been “very fortunate” to have Second Harvest on its side. Good Sam was able to fill food orders anywhere from 85-100 pounds of food per family for new and existing clients.

Black also understands there is still a need for school supplies and book bags in the community.

“We always do the school supplies and book bags in July, and we are going to be distributing school supplies and book bags to students that are here in the Loudon County and Lenoir City system,” she said. “Distribution will be here at the Good Samaritan Center on July 27-31 whether schools are in session or not.”