Hope on Horseback

By Christy Kyser Truitt and Wade McKinney

Bailey 1-4

On May 7, 2016, the horses at Storybook Farm in Opelika will share the spotlight with their four-legged counterparts in Kentucky as the non-profit equine center hosts its annual Kentucky Derby dinner and auction fundraiser.

Founder Dena Little is excited about the event. “This year marks our eighth annual Derby event. It gives us the opportunity to raise money for our children and put on a great show for our guests. Thanks to The Tailgate Guys, Auburn Audio/Video, The Hotel at Auburn and many others, the event is always spectacular,” says Little. Auburn University basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, spoke at last year’s fundraiser, and former Auburn University football coach, Pat Dye, has brought his sense of humor to the live auction in the past.

“What a gift Coach Dye has been to Auburn University and the entire community. This year, Coach Rhett Lashlee (AU offensive coordinator) will do the honors,” says Little.

Located on 25 acres in Opelika, Ala., Storybook Farm is a horse facility where children with a variety of physical, emotional, social and mental situations embrace and celebrate life through equine therapy. A long-time literary enthusiast, Little names each horse after favorite characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Dr. Dolittle and Tom Sawyer, to name a few.

“I love seeing the kids push their walkers as fast as they can to their horse’s stall, with volunteers trying to keep up,” says Little. Thousands of Auburn University students have volunteered at Storybook since the opening in 2002. In fact, a volunteer’s idea for a vegetable garden will come to fruition in summer 2015.

“One of our volunteers Allie Einarsson, is an Auburn University nutrition student. She’s a member of AU’s Committee of 19, a student organization committed to fight hunger,” says Little. The committee will partner with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) to provide educational training for volunteers, guidance on garden design and construction, guidance on soil mixtures and plant materials as well as water capture and irrigation possibilities for the farm.

“The garden will allow us to build on the horticulture activities started in the fall of 2014 by another volunteer, Nettie Eakes (who is now the assistant educational director at Cheyenne Botanic Garden in Wyoming),” says Little. The garden project will also contribute to the organization’s community outreach. Storybook will work with Jimmy Wright of Wright’s Markets to get produce to low-income, food-insecure families. Storyboook will also contribute to the City of Opelika’s Carver/Jeter project, an effort to revitalize both culturally and economically two low-income communities.

Another upcoming project which excites Little is the educational pavilion. Thanks to the Charter Foundation and private donors, Storybook Farm will construct an educational center, or as Little puts it, “An outdoor classroom,” in the summer of 2016. Children will be under roof and able to participate in educational programs, engage in arts and crafts, horticultural project and interact with Storybook pets.

“The pavilion will also be used as a gathering place and viewing space for parents. During sessions, parents, grandparents and friends can gather to support not only their children, but each other,” says Little. “Storybook is a much needed respite for families with children of special needs.”

Little’s days often begin at 5:30 a.m. and end well after midnight, leaving behind hours of hugging children, attending to parents, riding her characters while also tending to their medical and physical needs. With more than 1,000 children expected to visit Storybook in 2016, supported by some 200 Auburn University volunteers weekly, the organization continues to grow into Little’s vision where children and young people can come together for the purpose of strengthening each other physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For more information on how to support Storybook Farm and the upcoming Derby fundraiser, call 334.444.5966 or visit www.hopeonhorseback.org.