Farragut ties to STAR told at Rotary meeting

With Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017 — serving at-risk youth and individuals with physical, cognitive or neurological disabilities using horses and horse riding as therapy — Rotary Club of Farragut heard about RCF and Town connections.

Rotarians hosted Lyn Klimas-Petr, STAR founder and executive director, featured speaker at the club meeting in Fox Den Country Club Wednesday, Dec. 20.

STAR, founded in 1987 on Petr’s farm, now is located “just over the edge of Farragut in Loudon County [just off Kingston Pike on a 63-acre] farm there,” she said.

STAR serves seven riders and has 44 volunteers from Farragut.

“I had gotten to know her just a little bit,” Farragut Rotarian Amanda DeBord said of Petr. “I have a special needs son that is 20 now, and he actually rode at STAR when it first opened.

“[Petr] has so many great awards,” DeBord added. “She is a life member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, and she was [in the] Leadership Loudon County [Class of] 2015 and East Tennessee Regional Leadership [Class] in 2016.

“Lyn is a long-time horseperson who blended her passion for horses and her love for teaching together through her master’s [degree] thesis project to create Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding. Lyn is one of the foremost forerunners in her field. She helped create the national certification test for therapeutic riding instructors.”

Besides STAR’s regular volunteer program for ages 13 and older, it also has a junior volunteer program, in which youngsters ages 10 to 12, also can volunteer.

Farragut Rotarian Noah Myers said STAR’s volunteer programs are a good way for teens to get their school’s community service credits.

“Like my son, when he starts high school next year, has some mandated service hours, and there’s a lot of opportunities at STAR,” he said. “You can do the volunteer training so you understand all the safety side of it, as well as the protocol.”

STAR has four main programs: therapeutic riding; Changing Strides, which teaches life skills to at-risk youth; Minis in Motion, which takes miniature horses and ponies to local schools, nursing homes, memory care facilities, camps and other organizations, and Heroes & Horses, an equine-assisted activity for veterans with disabilities.

Petr said the therapeutic riding program is the largest of the three programs.

“That’s what we do on a daily basis,” she said.

The organization serves 150 individuals a week in the therapeutic riding and Heroes programs, Petr said.

“And Changing Strides adds on to that, and with the Minis programs, we can see 20 people at each visit,” she added.

Right now, STAR is working with Helen Ross McNabb [Center]’s veteran program and Changing Strides program.

“[Helen Ross McNabb Center] has a pretty strong group of counselors that work specifically with the veterans population,” Petr said. “We’re starting there, and they already come out [to STAR]. We’ve done experiential learning with the counselors.

“We were very blessed to get a grant from the United Way, specifically for mental health, and so we’re using that money and some monies we get from the [Veterans Administration] to help fund that program,” she added.

STAR operates with a budget of between $800,000 and $1 million. It has 10 full-time staff members, nine part-time staff, 400 volunteers on its roster; 30 horses at the Lenoir City facility and seven at its South Knoxville facility, Petr said.

“It’s just amazing. We are so blessed because we can’t do it [without the volunteers],” she added. “It really does take a lot of manpower.”

In addition to monetary donations, “in-kind” donations such as cleaning supplies, wheelbarrows or weed eaters are welcome.

Individuals, organizations and companies can visit STAR’s website at www.rideatstar.org, which has a “wish list” of needs and information on volunteer opportunities.