For the past five months, the Lycoming College chapter of Phi Kappa Psi has been performing community service at SunnyBrook Meadows Therapeutic Riding in Montgomery.
Established in 1993, SunnyBrook Meadows is an organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with special needs through therapeutic horseback riding.
"Children and adults with special needs can benefit physically, mentally and emotionally from horseback riding," said Edna Riddell, owner of SunnyBrook Meadows. "It's a great way for those who have physical disabilities to strengthen their core and enhance balance and coordination. In terms of mental and emotional benefits, therapeutic riding improves self-esteem and develops self-awareness."
SunnyBrook Meadows started out on a small scale, with an 18-week program during the summer. After nearly 20 years of being incorporated, the organization has grown into a year-round operation.
"Our programs run from February to November," Riddell said, "which means there's a lot more work and maintenance to be done around the farm."
Since October 2011, the members of Phi Kappa Psi have been trying to do much of that work.
"We go out and do what we can to help," said Brian Gordon, Phi Kappa Psi's community service chair. "We've cleared brush off the riding trails, taken out tree stumps, cleaned out stables, run insulators for electric fencing and carried out repairs on the barns."
Gordon, a Lycoming sophomore from Baltimore, Md., said he first made contact with Riddell after the college sent him a list of local community service opportunities that included SunnyBrook Meadows.
"It sounded like something we would be interested in," Gordon said. "I contacted Edna via email and we went out there a week after we got in touch with her. Now we're there just about every weekend."
According to Riddell, the efforts of the Psi Kappa Psi brothers have been extremely helpful.
"They're willing to do any project that I give them," she said. "They've been such willing helpers. It's so refreshing to see these young people come out and use their energy for a really positive cause. Their enthusiasm for helping others is so encouraging."
The willingness of the Phi Kappa Psi members to help out comes as no surprise considering their fraternity is built upon community service.
"Unlike a lot of other fraternities, which are built on the basis of being a social club, we're one of the few fraternities in the world that's built on community service," said Ray Grewe, Phi Kappa Psi member and Lycoming College senior. "Our motto is 'the great joy of serving others' and our brotherhood is built through service."
The Lycoming College chapter of Phi Kappa Psi has 22 members, all of whom have worked at SunnyBrook Meadows.
"We send out a Saturday shift and a Sunday shift so we're getting as much work done every weekend as we can," Grewe said. "There are always at least 5 or 6 guys working a shift."
Grewe, who also hails from Baltimore, said going to the country every weekend and helping out has been a great experience for many of the fraternity brothers who come from big cities.
"At least half of us are city kids," Grewe said. "I didn't know how to swing an ax before I went out there."
Gordon said the more the fraternity brothers work, the more responsibility Riddell has given them.
"We're all learning something new every time we go," Gordon said. "When we first got there Edna asked us to move a brush pile, but now she asks 'can you help me expand this pasture?' She's given us more challenging projects which means she trusts the job we're doing."
The brothers' next big project will be to help Riddell realize a goal she's had since SunnyBrook Meadows opened in 1993: to build a sensory trail.
"A sensory trail is a trail where riders are exposed to different sensory experiences," Riddell explained. "It could be building a boardwalk so the rider can hear the sound of the horse's hooves on the wood, or it could mean planting an herb garden to stimulate the rider's sense of smell. The goal is to provide our riders with things to see, hear and touch. We're still in the stage of planning different visual, auditory and tactile stations."
Riddell said SunnyBrook Meadows hasn't been able to build the sensory trail because they haven't had the funding. Now that the Phi Kappa Psi brothers are helping out, the sensory trail might be within reach.
"We're in a state where we need funding to complete the trail," Riddell said. "We've been very lucky to have the Phi Kappa Psi boys helping out. We got an estimate to see how much it would cost just to lay the path through the woods and it was around $24,000. With the boys working to clear the path, we can build the trail for close to $5,000. They've made a big difference."
In their effort to complete the SunnyBrook sensory trail, Grewe and Gordon are asking members of the community for financial support.
"Edna's looking to get a grant from the City of Williamsport, but we'd like to open it up to donations from the community," Gordon said. "We also need machinery to clear some of the trees and stumps, so we'd be grateful to receive donations in the form of free equipment rental."
Anyone interested in donating to the cause should contact Brian Gordon by email at email@example.com.