LOWELL — Acting Superintendent Barry Golner and the Lowell Police Department are pleased to share that 46 Lowell youth were able to take part in a riding program at Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm in Andover thanks to funding from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s (EOPSS) Shannon Community Safety Initiative and support from Lowell Public Schools.
The program was offered to youth ages 10 to 14, from July 11 to August 5 at Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm in Andover, which worked in collaboration with Lowell Police. Funding was provided by the Shannon Community Safety Initiative, which seeks to support at-risk youth across the Commonwealth.
Charlie, age 11, had only ever seen horses from a distance on farms before, and had never ridden one before participating in a walk around the farm on horseback.
“I was excited, but also really nervous because I’ve never really been around a horse before, and I’ve always wanted to see a horse,” said 10-year-old Elaine. “I thought it was really cool.”
Participants first spent time learning to groom, and formed bonds with horses and their instructors and fellow students.
Dunnie, Elaine’s horse, followed her commands during a walk around the farm.
“You have to squeeze his body with your legs for him to go forward, and once he’s already going forward if you want him to stop you pull back on the reins,” Elaine explained.
The goal of the program is to help youth build relationships with police officers, while also helping the students gain self-confidence.
“We offer a positive, safe and encouraging setting where these kids can come and explore something that is most often not in their daily lives, all while bonding with and learning to trust both human and equine partners as well as themselves,” said Dave McCann, an instructor with Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm.
McCann said horses help participants bond.
“Horses help to put everyone on a level playing field. None of the participating officers had any appreciable experience with equines prior to their involvement here. Kids see this pretty quickly, and it encourages them,” McCann said. “They are all learning about basic principles of horsemanship together, and we begin to see the groups trusting in each other by working and playing together with the horses. Not many things can bring a group closer together than having a 2,000-pound, four-legged teammate!”
Abby O’Keefe, a fourth grade teacher at the Shaughnessy Elementary School in Lowell, and Mason Webb, both joined the program as interns thanks to support from Lowell Public Schools.
“They’re totally different kids from Monday to Friday,” O’Keefe said. “It’s amazing. I think they learn so much without even realizing that they’re learning these things. They’re learning to trust different adults and different settings, teachers, and cops, and kids who are older than them, and they’re learning to trust and interact and work with them in a different vibe than they would typically picture teachers and cops in.”
Webb, who graduated from Lowell High School in June, had been to a riding program before and jumped at the opportunity to gain experience working with kids at a similar program. Webb also saw the change.
“One girl was completely silent on the first day, and by the last day she was laughing with friends and throwing water at Officer (Alex) Ramos since it was so hot out,” Webb said. “They were so timid and shy in the beginning, and by the end of the week they turned into such characters.”
Lowell Public Schools provided breakfast for the morning program at the farm, and lunch for the afternoon program. Transportation to and from the farm was paid for with funding from the Shannon Community Safety Initiative.
Lowell Police employees and other volunteers who staffed the program include Officers Alex Ramos, Erica Torres, and Michael Kandrotas, and School Resource Officers Paul Robbins, Mindy Dower, Kyle Van, and Anne Szablak.
The program is one of several initiatives organized by the Lowell Police Youth Services Program, which seeks to create opportunities for all city youth. The program oversees after-school activities, athletics, and other ventures that emphasize health and wellness.
“Thank you to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security for the Shannon Community Safety Initiative, which has provided major funding and support for youth outreach and law enforcement efforts in Lowell for years. The support they have provided to the Lowell Police Department has helped better the City of Lowell,” said Interim Superintendent Golner. “I also want to thank Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm for joining our work with Lowell Public Schools to provide healthy, confidence-building activities for Lowell youth this summer.”
To learn more about Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm, visit: https://ironstonefarm.org/.
About the Lowell Police Youth Services Program
The Lowell Police Youth Services Program seeks to create opportunities for all city youth to participate in free after school activities, athletics, and other ventures that emphasize health and wellness, while also experiencing positive interactions with police officers. The Lowell Police Youth Services Program is open to partnering with all community stakeholders. Stay tuned in the coming weeks and months for additional programming involving flag football.
For more information on the Lowell Police Youth Services Program, email: LPDYouthServices@lowellma.gov. To make a donation to the Lowell Police Youth Services Program via the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, click here.
To follow the Lowell Police Youth Services Program on Instagram, click here.