Bubbles, Buttercup and Blossom, the three new chickens at Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, will be ready to welcome guests to the nonprofit for an open house May 22.
Horses, including Magic and Jazz, and Teddy, a donkey, will be excited to be surrounded by people.
“I’m looking forward to opening the gates and letting everybody see all the great things that we have to offer,” said Rebecca Blitz, the executive director of SMART. “You leave smiling. If you come not having a good day, you will leave having a good day.”
Blitz said the open house will give the nonprofit an opportunity to showcase its numerous programs, introduce people to the horses and give back to the community.
“I’m looking forward to bringing our volunteers who haven’t been here in a long time out to see our herd and have them get to know new donors and new volunteers,” Blitz said. “We’re letting people know we’re here because a lot of people don’t know we exist still.”
On display will be demonstrations of how programs and lessons at SMART work.
“A lot of people don’t know the involvement that comes with one therapy lesson,” Blitz said. “It takes four people — two side walks, a lead instructor and a lead walker — so [the demonstration] is a great opportunity for everybody to see the value in riding therapy. It’s a team. You build camaraderie with the other volunteers, with the horse and the participant.”
Blitz said SMART needs about 16 volunteers per group lesson, and the nonprofit is in need of about 14 new volunteers.
“Once they meet us, you become part of our family, and it’s just a good place, it’s a good energy,” she said. “We can never have enough [volunteers] because there’s always something to do.”
Blitz said the open house will be a family-friendly event with a 50/50 raffle, a silent auction, a tack sale, food trucks and a bounce house.
All proceeds will go toward the nonprofit’s programming and services.
In April, SMART added two programs, Reins of Hope and a first responders program. Reins of Hope is geared toward cancer survivors while the first responders program is for firefighters, police officers and hospital workers.
“Financially, we’re still struggling,” Blitz said. “It was hard because the pandemic made us completely shut down, but I think the herd misses people as well. It will be nice to have everyone back.”
The open house will also be an opportunity for people to tour the nonprofit’s facilities. SMART can now host weddings, birthday parties and other events.