DAYTON — An Ohio equestrian nonprofit is bringing its horses to visit the Dayton Veterans Affairs Saturday to raise money for first responders and autistic kids.
The 4 Freedom Equestrian Team will be at the grounds of the Dayton VA from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 26, in the grass yard behind the Miami Valley Military History Museum, 120 Ohio Avenue (Bldg 120), Dayton. Visitors will be able to pet the horses and talk with the riders.
The nonprofit frequently participates in veterans’ events, and visits the Dayton VA regularly to hand out “thank you” packages, according to founder and team captain Leah Young. However, the mission Saturday is to raise money for first responders to help special needs children.
The team supports fire stations and police departments with “comfort bags,” or “sensory bags,” which contains items for calming or distracting autistic or special needs children during an emergency. The bags contain about 20 items, which are generally easily replaceable and inexpensive. The items include noise-cancelling headphones, stuffed animals, books, toys, and other sensory items in a heavy-duty toolbag.
“The focus is on autism but they can be for any child,” Young said. “We put them together for ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars to comfort special needs kids, but they are really for any child or adult that needs a little something to help calm them during, for example, a 20-minute ambulance ride.”
Young came upon the idea for the sensory bags as her husband, Doug, is a firefighter. Doug’s son, Leah’s stepson, is autistic and nonverbal.
“I heard news stories of other departments who had done this,” she said. “My husband’s department didn’t have any, so I made some for his department.”
Young put 30 bags together in 2019, enough to outfit every ambulance, firetruck in her husband’s fire department with the bags. To date, Young and her team have supplied bags to ten police and fire departments in southwest Ohio. Her team is in the process of raising funds for 100 more.
“We want to get as many departments supplied as we can. We also want to raise awareness for the needs of these comfort bags. People can get an idea of what they’re used for,” Young said.
Donations to the project can be made via gofundme, found on the 4 Freedom Equestrian Team Facebook page.
Fire or police departments interested in obtaining sensory bags can call 937-776-0999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Established in 2006, the 4 Freedom Equestrian Team teaches people about the roles horses played in the military, as well as saddle history, horse care and safety. The organization also does Honor Guards and Riderless Horse honors. As part of those honors, a saddled but unridden horse accompanies a funeral procession of a high-ranking military official, or may symbolize fallen soldiers in military parades.
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.