Twenty-five students at the Gloucester County Institute of Technology and the SkillsUSA Chapter recently built two horse-mounting blocks for Operation Safe Haven that will assist veterans who participate in that organization’s equine activities at Hope Therapeutic Riding Center in Franklinville.
The center provides veterans and first responders with horseback-riding events to ease the stress that comes with their jobs.
“This gives the volunteers and veterans steps that they can easily manage and not be mounting from the ground,” said riding center therapy Director Jackie Iannacone.
She noted that several employees were thrilled to receive the donation, including Operation Safe Haven owner and founder Donnie Davis, who deals with knee issues.
“It’s all about training and preparing students to be good citizens, to be good workers, and to give back to the community,” said Stephen White, a building trades teacher.
After the riding center was shut down due to COVID, Iannacone was contacted in January to see if the mounts were still needed.
“Volunteers and donations help to keep the projects going at Operation Safe Haven,” said Michael Maiale, a senior building trades student. “The inspiration behind the project is to help all veterans get through their troubles and heartaches.”
The mounts will also help with the horses, so they can be handled with care by volunteers.
“It especially helps the larger horses, so we aren’t grabbing and pulling,” Iannacone explained.
The GCIT students wanted to present the mounts with a custom Operation Safe Haven logo for Davis and Ianocone. Retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot funded the project and provided necessary supplies to build the mounts, which took three months.
“It’s been an incredible piece of equipment that we couldn’t do ourselves, so for them to have done it, is an awesome blessing,” Iannacone noted.
Iannacone said the reality of the donation hasn’t fully hit her yet, but she knows the mounts will benefit veterans at Operation Safe Haven for years to come.
To view the YouTube video, visit https://youtu.be/SkLmHfjfAJs.