Two new grants help Shining Hope Farms succeed

by Aaron Burns

MOUNT HOLLY – Milinda Kirkpatrick knows her Shining Hope Farms nonprofit is fortunate.

Shining Hope Farms, founded in 2002, uses hippotherapy to help nearly 100 children every week. The farm, operated by Paul and Milinda Kirkpatrick, received grants from Speedway Children’s Charities and AmeriCorps VISTA in November. (Courtesy of Milinda Kirkpatrick)

It’s not easy to provide free hippotherapy – physical, occupational and speech-language therapy using horses – to 94 percent of the disabled people who visit Shining Hope Farms. The farm sees 80-100 people per week.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” Kirkpatrick said.

Things became a little easier this month. The agency received a $4,000 grant, one of 37 given to local organizations, from Concord-based Speedway Children’s Charities, a nonprofit founded by Speedway Motorsports Chairman Bruton Smith.

The charity has offices in each city Smith owns a race track: Concord/Charlotte; Atlanta; Bristol, Tenn.; Sparta, Ky.; Las Vegas; Loudon, N.H.; Sonoma, Calif.; and Fort Worth, Texas.

SCC’s board of trustees awards grants to organizations based on how they best serve kids’ medical, educational and social needs.

“We were very fortunate to be part of that selection process,” Kirkpatrick said.

“We’ve gotten so many requests for people wanting their kids to come to the farm that we’ve got a waiting list, but we certainly want to meet the needs of the community. We receive three to six grants a year, but they’re usually for $500-$2,500, so a larger grant definitely helps us.”

Lisa Starnes, the director of SCC’s Charlotte chapter, said the grant went to a deserving cause.

“It’s an honor to support charities like Shining Hope Farms,” she said. “They have an excellent reputation and are a great group of people.”

Shining Hope Farms, which serves Mecklenburg, Lincoln, Iredell and Gaston counties, received more good news in November: AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), an anti-poverty program which provides nonprofits with full-time volunteers, selected the farm as a recipient to expand its service programs.

“We’ll have a full-time person, Jessamyn Dib, coming down from New York to help us work with low-income families who need assistance in the area,” Kirkpatrick said.

With VISTA’s grant, the farm will partner with Gastonia-based Bit of Hope Ranch and Wings of Eagles Ranch in Concord.

Shining Hope has 18 staff members and 14 horses, most of them quarter horses.  They became the first equestrian nonprofit in the country to receive a VISTA grant, Kirkpatrick said.

“(With the grant) it’s like adding a full-time fundraiser,” she said. “With that and the grant from Speedway Children’s Charities, it’s quite exciting to think of what we can do now.”

Shining Hope Farms Program Director Debbie Cloy said the grants are a major boost to funding.

“Every bit helps, and we can certainly use all the help we can get,” Cloy said.

Kirkpatrick said the farm operates on an annual budget of $200,000.

“We try our best to be transparent with the public with how we spend the money we have,” said Kirkpatrick, who has the farm audited every three years.

“We may be a small nonprofit,” she said, “but we’re focused on making a huge impact.”

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