MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A nonprofit is creating space for children of color to feel seen and heard and learn new skills with horses.
The CREW Urban Youth Equestrian program launched in March 2021, a nonprofit offering what board members describe as a "culturally relevant, safe, non-judgmental space for urban youth of color to learn how to train horses."
"I felt this program was important because we started to notice after the George Floyd murder, and the isolation from students having to move to virtual learning, that they had a myriad of emotions. They were isolated from family and friends and they were confused and it was all happening within the confines of their homes, their neighborhoods, their schools," CREW co-founder Kenatia Gilmer said. "They didn't have a place."
Gilmer said she and four other co-founders listened to children in their families and developed the tenets that would become the foundation for the program. CREW stands for Community, Relationships, Empowerment and Well-Being.
"We created a program where they could have a safe, non-judgmental space for themselves, away from the cities, away from everything that was going on, to process what they may have been feeling and to know it's OK," Gilmer said.
Right now, 25 to 30 children participate in the program, with plans to add a 4-H component. Gilmer said each child starts "from the ground up," building relationships with horses and developing mindfulness skills along the way.
"We start everyone with horsemanship training. They learn how to communicate with the horses. They learn how to take care of them. They learn those nuances like if their ears are pointing straight up or if their tail is ... you know what those things mean, and it is a phased approach," Gilmer said. "They'll work themselves up to riding. However, we teach mindfulness techniques where they learn how to center themselves before approaching the horse and they also learn how that impacts the spatial activity between them and the horses themselves. We really work on those basic foundational skills. How to be a horseman ... how to train them and, in training them, they're training the horses, and that's our foundational basis for the program."
Participant Kori, 10, said the program has helped cope with anxiety.
"What I like about the CREW program is that we get to have our own space limit," Kori said. "We get to say what that limit is. They don't choose it for us. We get to choose what we want to do with the horses and do all these exercises. We get to spend time with the horses, bond with them and learn how to work with them and feed them."
Gilmer shared what The CREW's board members hope participants take away from the program.
"My hope is that they know, first and foremost, that they belong here, that this is their space to own, that they are fully capable of doing anything they put their intentions to," Gilmer said. "They are worth it. They are valued. We are exposing them to a multi-billion dollar industry where they can choose a space to land, whether its arts, fashion, horse training, riding, whatever they choose. Whatever they choose to do, they can absolutely do it."
Parents are encouraged to reach out regardless of financial circumstances. For more information about The CREW Urban Youth Equestrian program, click here, or watch a video about the program below:
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