BY GRETCHEN MURRAY
Special to the Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Senior Center Network and Peace Ranch are partnering for a Spring Hoedown, with square dancing and live entertainment.
The event will take place Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. at Twin Lakes Park. Cost is $5 for advance tickets available at the Senior Center, or $7 at the door.
Along with the dancing and refreshments, the event will offer the opportunity to learn more about Peace Ranch, the unique programs it offers, and volunteer opportunities that some have described as life-changing.
Peace Ranch, a faith-based organization located on 26 acres in the Hoosier Valley south of Traverse City, works with children and adults with various needs and disabilities by providing space for what executive director Jackie Kaschel described as the parallel process of rescuing, rehabilitating and restoring both horses and humans.
The herd at Peace Ranch is comprised of 13 rescued and unwanted horses gathered from throughout the Midwest. Volunteers guide the animals through the training process to become therapy horses. Kaschel said working with, grooming and caring for the horses can be extremely satisfying, even transformational, for clients and volunteers alike.
“We began the program in 2007 and work with the local courts, the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center, Pine Rest, Community Mental Health, the Department of Human Services and many other agencies,” Kaschel said. “We also offer educational programs for local schools.”
The partnership between the Senior Center and Peace Ranch happened accidentally last fall when Ericca Hovie, program coordinator for the Senior Center, sought some ranch style props for the first hoedown.
“I called Peace Ranch to see if I could borrow some saddles, and I got a horse and rider to greet people out front as well in exchange for the chance to talk about their mission during the event,” Hovie said.
Traverse City resident Erwin Sporte had never been around horses, but liked what he heard and didn’t waste time signing on as a volunteer.
“I got roped in,” Sporte said.
A widower, Sporte, 90, was bored living alone and wanted a chance to mingle with a variety of different age groups.
Now he volunteers three or four days a week at the ranch, where he grooms horses and leads school tours.
“They call me the old man around here, and that’s fine with me,” he said. “My wife and I never had children, but I feel the kids who come here can use a grandfather, or in my case, a great-grandfather figure -- someone who wants to be with them and do things with them.”
Sporte finds reciprocal value in his work.
“I look like I’m 72,” he joked. “I enjoy good health, and I know Peace Ranch has helped me with that, and it’s given me a definite purpose.”
“Erwin is worth his weight in gold,” Kaschel said. “This is a multi-generational workforce, and anyone can find something to do here. The resources in the senior population are very valuable to us, and we appreciate seniors interested in giving their time, skill and wisdom.”