TEWKSBURY – Chief Ryan Columbus is pleased to report that the Tewksbury Police Department has sent six officers to participate in an officer wellness pilot program at Strongwater Farm thanks to grant funding from the Hidden Battles Foundation.
The officers will participate in a six-week wellness program, attending a 90-minute session each week at the farm for educational sessions that include hands-on experiences and activities with horses and self reflection in a holistic environment.
The purpose of the Caring for the Caregiver Equine Program for First Responders is to help officers learn self awareness, the importance of physical and wellness care, and healthy self expression, while beginning to identify the skills needed to build resilience and cope with stress while building the confidence to support their personal goals.
The Hidden Battles Foundation provided about $3,000 in grant funding so that Tewksbury Police could participate. Tewksbury Police have agreed to evaluate the program afterward to help Strongwater Farm identify strengths and weaknesses in the program and to improve best practices, in the hope that the program can be expanded and offered to other local first responders as well.
“It’s important that Law Enforcement finds ways to be proactive with officers and their mental health. For too long our profession has stigmatized officers needing mental health assistance. Although changes have been made in recent years, we need to be able to utilize programs like these and have funding available to care for our first responders,” said Chief Columbus. “The things we see can have an adverse effect on all of us if we don’t have the skills to cope and understand that ‘its ok to not be ok.’ Imagine seeing and responding to everyone’s worst moments for 30 years. If we ensure we take care of our officers, the community will benefit from officers performing at their best.”
Officer Josh Barbera is one of the officers participating in the program. He said the first day on Tuesday went extremely well, with officers focusing initially on grooming and getting to know the horses they will be working with.
“We got positive feedback from everyone who participated,” Officer Barbera said. “Everyone enjoyed it. The staff was absolutely great, and it was a very comfortable, calm environment with no pressure.”
Strongwater Farm offers other accredited therapeutic riding programs, including some for veterans, individuals with PTSD, and individuals with physical and mental disabilities.
“I am extremely grateful to Hidden Battles for providing funding for us to take part in this program, to Strongwater Farm for working with us, and for the opportunity for some of our officers to have more positive experiences and interactions while on the job, Chief Columbus said.
“Every day in law enforcement is different, but we all face a lot of difficult calls, have a lot of negative interactions with people, and see things that you don’t want to see, but have to see,” said Officer Barbera. “This gives us an opportunity to have positive encounters with people and to add another tool into our toolbox as we work to find ways to help with the stuff that some of us may be thinking about.”
“Our Healthcare Professionals and First Responders experience or witness life threatening or traumatic events as a part of the normal day on the job. Strongwater Farm created the Caring for the Caregiver Program to relieve compassion fatigue and burnout from chronic workplace stress and exposure during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Strongwater Farm Executive Director Maria Antonioni. “We are honored to provide this program for the Tewksbury Police Department. The Officers’ equine partners King, Twinkle, Luka, Enzo, Cha-Ching, and Karlton are on the job and ready for the assignment!”
About Strongwater Farm
The mission of Strongwater Farm is to enhance and enrich lives by providing education, physical activity, social opportunities, and emotional support to clients through equine-assisted services. Strongwater Farm is one of only two therapeutic riding centers in northeast Massachusetts with Premier Center accreditation from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International.
To learn more, visit: https://strongwaterfarm.org/.
About Hidden Battles
Hidden Battles is a non-profit organization that strives to help preserve the healthy minds of veterans, firefighters, police officers and first responders through treatment and counseling for depression, suicidal tendencies and PTSD.
To learn more, visit: https://hiddenbattlesfoundation.org/.