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East County Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2020 2 years ago

Huge challenges for new SMART director in Manatee County

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Rebecca Blitz takes over SMART during difficult financial times.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

It was no joke  when East County’s Rebecca Blitz started as the new executive director of Sarasota-Manatee Association for Riding Therapy on April 1.

With forced closures of programs and the cancellation of SMART’s biggest fundraiser due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization’s finances took a major hit.

University Place's Rebecca Blitz, with Gallagher, grew up riding horses and has spent her career working with nonprofits. Courtesy photo.

SMART can pay its mortgage and feed its 15 therapy horses through April.

“I’m not sure after that,” Blitz said. “We have zero income coming in.”

SMART suspended its programming through April 30 in conjunction with the state guidelines for the coronavirus.

However, Blitz is optimistic that after the public health crisis is over, SMART can start anew by expanding programming and trying new ideas

to bring in revenues to cover its $400,000 annual operating budget.

Until then, she plans to use social media to help raise awareness of the organization and its programs. She already has started daily Facebook livestream videos to introduce the public to SMART’s horses and barn.

“We’ll do more social awareness through media,” Blitz said. “It’s going to be bringing the barn to them.”

Blitz is hopeful that effort will translate into financial support and future volunteers.

The organization had expected to raise about $80,000 at its March 28 Mane Event fundraiser, but the event was canceled. Of that, $60,000 would have purchased fans for the facility’s covered arena, so it can be used in the summertime. A new sprinkler system would help keep dust down as well. Funding for those items is still lacking.

Even more urgent, though, is the need for basic operating expenses. One $10,000 donation could feed and care for a SMART horse for the entire year, while a $23 donation could pay for a bag of horse feed. A $100 donation will feed four horses for one day.

Long term, Blitz hopes to leverage her background in event planning, marketing and education for the benefit of SMART, both by expanding programming and creating alternative revenue streams.

Creative revenue sources could be team-building events, an increase in private carriage driving lessons and additional fundraisers, such as a Winter Wonderland with holiday lights and carriage rides. The farm also could be a backdrop for holiday parties, special events, concerts or even weddings. Starting in June, SMART also intends to do a summer camp this year.

“We have this incredible facility — I don’t even call it a barn,” Blitz said. “It’s a sanctuary.”

Blitz also hopes to add volunteer work days, where businesses or groups can come to help make repairs or address other maintenance needs at the 23-acre facility at 4640 County Road 675 E., Bradenton.

Although Blitz would like to expand programming, such as SMART’s literacy program featuring its blind horse, Magic, and other therapy programs, she is focused on raising funds and finding new volunteers because some of its older volunteers do not plan to return because of health concerns related to the coronavirus.

“We’re just trying to get the funds,” Blitz said. “I’ve always been a positive thinker.”

SMART offers horseback riding and carriage driving therapy to those with special needs. It provides therapeutic programs to military veterans, women rescued from sex trafficking and families coping with the loss of a child through partnerships with other agencies and nonprofits.

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