Courage to Heal

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Magdalene Serenity House is blessed with the support of countless businesses, organizations, and individuals in our community. We recently sat down with Lexie Kerr, Jessie Kersh, and Karen Davis, the three women behind one such organization, Courage Therapeutic Riding Center, to discuss their mission, work with Magdalene Serenity House, and the courageous nature of healing.

Tell us about Courage Therapeutic Riding Center.

Jessie: We provide equine-assisted activities and therapy to Northwest Arkansas. That demographic ranges from individuals with special needs, all ages, all ability levels, to those in foster care, DHS custody, and now working with Magdalene Serenity House.

What is your involvement with Magdalene Serenity House?

Lexie: The residents come once a week, weather permitting, and we do equine-assisted activities with them. That may look like a groundwork activity where they work together as a team to get something accomplished, or maybe individual groundwork activities, or riding activities. Their activity really depends on our lesson that day.

Jessie: We created the “Mending Fences” program specifically for Magdalene Serenity House. It was a pilot program and we experienced it with the residents. I truly don’t believe we could have planned this program before meeting the individual women. The program was originally six weeks, but when we got to week six, we realized there wasn't enough time to cover all we wanted to cover, so we extended the program an additional six weeks. The first six weeks was just a taste for the residents and they wanted more. We’ve also found a way for the women in the program to come back in a helping role during the next phase, that way we can keep everybody involved.

What is it about equine therapy you find healing?

Jessie: Especially for the women, it’s a chance for them to explore expressions and feelings. We ask them to observe the horses and they’re able to apply what they see to themselves or find a parallel. With the amount of activities, horses, and personalities that are out there, it’s pretty clear that there’s a situation and horse for everybody. While we aren’t always able to communicate so well, “hey, we need to get along,” the horses are doing a really good job of it and that’s clear to people if we teach them what to look for. So, with the women, we help them analyze the horses’ communication styles and the way they live, then apply that to themselves and make connections.

So, week to week the sessions look different? The program involves more than just riding.

Jessie: That’s right. In the first six weeks, we spent a lot of time on the ground doing observations and activities. We worked primarily with the mares, which is the large group of females, and that group, the number, style, and environment, even, is similar to what you’re going to see in the house. The relationships are similar. It was clear to the women early on that there was something the horses had in common with them. Then, in the next six weeks, we decided to push them forward with riding skills and began working with the geldings - they’re our big, strong guys. We’ve guided them into building a relationship based on the leadership skills that they learned with the mares. So, we’ve moved them forward in the riding department in the last six weeks. The first six weeks and the last six weeks have been totally different parts of the program, but equally beneficial.

How have horses been healing in your own lives?

Jessie: We all knew what horses had to offer at a very young age.

Karen: Being involved in therapeutic riding for almost twenty years,  I've had the joy to experience horses helping individuals in so many great ways. By giving them the legs they need to go through a mud puddle, limber up enough while riding to take first steps, slow down enough to follow basic instructions, find courage through divorce and life transitions. Through all those different experiences, it’s really clear that the horses have something to offer everybody. Able-bodied kids come around the horses and learn more about responsibility, life choices, and consequences. It’s amazing what each aspect of equine assisted activities can offer.

Lexie: Being with horses helped grow my confidence as an individual. They helped me find my voice and my way of helping our community.

What does #lovehealsnwa mean to you?

Lexie: I think one of the biggest ways you can show someone love and compassion is to empower them and not do for them. So, when it comes to Courage, one of our biggest goals for every program is to empower the people that are out here to help better themselves - whatever that looks like for them. When I think of #lovehealsnwa, I think of people empowering other people and helping others to find their resources, helping other people find their path, helping other people heal themselves, whatever that looks like, and it’s going to look different for everybody. But out here, we can help everyone find the unique way that works best for them.  

Jessie: It takes courage to heal. I think Courage is a healing ground where people come to dump the stuff that other people don’t want to talk about. We’re a safe spot to make mistakes, to have your worst day, we’re a safe spot for all that stuff that’s been bubbling up. The horses are safe for that - they’re experts in that department and they help bring that stuff out. We have a saying here that horses remember how you make them feel, and they understand how you feel. They’re very in tune with that and it’s ok for you to feel however you feel here. You’re going to be accepted, you’re going to be loved. We want to be a healing grounds in Northwest Arkansas for many years to come, and we hope that everybody that visits feels better when they leave. Our foundation is love. It was our love for horses that brought us together and it’s our love for this community that continues to drive us. We want to share the benefits of equine therapy to everyone in the community.

Is there anything else you want folks to know about Courage Therapeutic Riding Center?

Karen: Everyone is welcome here. Anyone can come and benefit from equine therapy, not just specific demographics. We also love and need volunteers!

Jessie: Volunteers are a huge part of the population that has healed here! Our volunteers are essential to so many of our programs.

To find out more about volunteering at Courage Therapeutic Riding Center, check out their website

Volunteer Spotlight: Liz Sims

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Today for our volunteer spotlight, we chatted with Liz Sims, our volunteer coordinator, who is, herself, a volunteer, about her involvement with Magdalene Serenity House! 

Tell us about you!  

I’m Liz and I’m the volunteer volunteer coordinator at Magdalene Serenity House! I grew up in Mountain View, Arkansas and graduated from the UA with a degree in social work in 2014. I worked for 5 years at Life Styles in Fayetteville, which serves people who have disabilities. I’ve done a lot of work with the homeless, including data collection for the Point in Time census in NWA, and the LGBTQ community. I resigned from Life Styles to spend time with my son and partner. 

What inspired you to get involved with MSH?

I was at an event last summer and someone from St. Paul’s was speaking about MSH and it sounded awesome. I was really interested and so I got her number and she hooked me up with our program director. 

I’ve always been interested in rehabilitation. When I worked at Life Styles, their goal was integrating the people they serve into the community. Overall, I am interested in integration and rehabilitation and MSH sounded like a combination of both. I was really drawn to the mission of Magdalene. 

What do you want new volunteers to know about MSH?

I want them to know about the heart of Magdalene Serenity House. I want people to ask questions, be open, and know that, yes, the residents are here for trauma and some difficulties in their pasts, but the house is full of laughter and fun and good conversations and positive vibes. 

What does #lovehealsnwa mean to you? 

It means community. I have been amazed at the way so many volunteers and people in our community have come together to get Magdalene up and running and who continue, week after week, to support the residents and the organization. 

What volunteer needs does Magdalene Serenity House currently have?

We need drivers. Our ladies need to be driven to appointments, meetings, etc. Driving is a great way to get to know our residents. You get a lot of one-on-one time and it’s a wonderful way to connect. 

We also need weekend volunteers to be on-call.  The role of the weekend volunteer is to check in at the house twice a day, monitor family visitations, and transport the residents to any activities that day. It’s a great way to be of service and allows you to truly experience Magdalene's Mission in action. 

What most inspires you about MSH?

The residents and their persistence, their strength. I’m blown away by their stories. I never hear them complain. They truly love to be here. Their drive and ambition towards recovery is inspirational. 

What are your passions?

As a social worker, I am passionate about people, our community, and advocacy. 

Interested in being a Magdalene Serenity House volunteer? You can find our volunteer application here

Grace in Motion

Grace in Motion

When you think of God’s grace, does a specific person come to mind as an example of that grace? Perhaps it’s a minister, community leader, or survivor? A doctor, advocate, or child?

When we think of God’s grace, we picture the doers, movers, and shakers among us. The Magdalene Serenity House family is filled with such inspirations, people not only speaking about God’s grace, but leaning into it, allowing their actions to flow from that place of Grace. To us, they represent God’s grace in motion.

We’re told “the Universe cannot respond to inaction” and “faith without works is dead,” and we agree. Healing is hard work. It requires willingness and action. We must walk towards our goals, rather than away from our pasts, even when the road is steep, even when our steps are shaky.

When we move with intention towards love and healing, we avail ourselves to God’s abundant grace and see it at work in our lives.

To us, leaning into grace means getting our hands dirty, doing the tough soul work that change and progress require, and allowing our actions to do our speaking, just as our teachers and leaders have modeled for us.

What does God’s grace mean to you? Where do you see grace in motion?