SIRE announced plans to begin a construction project that will add multiple buildings to its Spring area site, including a counseling center to maximize the benefits people with special needs receive from therapy and working with horses. SIRE provides therapeutic horsemanship to individuals with emotional, cognitive, or physical disabilities. The nonprofit has been operating at its Spring location since 2001, serving on average about 100 riders per week.
Executive Director Joe Wappelhorst said the organization has seen a great response from riders and intends to grow their impact in the community. They’ve undertaken this construction project to accomplish two things, he said.
“One is to double the number of people we serve in the Spring community, people with disabilities and special needs,” Wappelhorst said. “And two, to create the best facility possible to do that, not only for physical, but emotional and cognitive needs as well to best serve the community.”
Spring site manager Shayna Bolton said the organization’s goal is to teach riding skills, as well as life skills. Their programs help build strength and self-esteem, Bolton said, and are especially important amid the pandemic during which SIRE has been providing consistency and stability to clients — some who are diagnosed with autism — by keeping lessons going.
In addition to a counseling center, the project will include building a dressage arena, an office and visitors center. Wappelhorst said they’re also building a 24-stall barn to house horses.
“As we grow and we have a larger facility, not only can we serve more clients with this barn, we will be able to bring individuals, say in a wheelchair — they can come in and groom their horse, really learn the skills that it takes to work with these animals — something we can’t do right now because we’re either grass or dirt or arena,” Bolton said. “We do not have a barn at the moment.”
The total cost of improvements is going to be about $3.3 to $3.5 million, Wappelhorst said, which is entirely supported by donations. He said they’ve seen some major donors step forward.
LGI Homes, which is based in The Woodlands, agreed to build one of the buildings free of charge. He said the homebuilder is donating the visitors center, which is expected to cost $650,000 to $750,000.
The Mabee Foundation has committed $900,000 to the project, and other donors have contributed as well.
“So far, we’ve reached commitments of approximately $2.6 million,” he said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. …We’re right in the midst of bringing all the funding together to get the project done. We are solely relying on philanthropy of the people of the community. …We do not receive any government funds for what we do.”
Wappelhorst hopes everything will be finished and opened by September 2022.
“It’s going to be built in phases; we’re right now in the process of getting building permits for the first phase,” Wappelhorst said. “We hope to have those done and break ground mid-May of 2021.”
One of the biggest challenges SIRE has moving forward, according to Wappelhorst, is the continued need of funding, not just for the present capital campaign, but also day-to-day operations.
Bolton said the Spring location’s new welcome center will have more restrooms as well as a classroom. She hopes there will be opportunities in the future to host different groups — not just for riding and therapeutic horsemanship, but using their building as a community resource.
“We are hoping to partner with more school groups,” Bolton said. “That could have a huge impact, especially for these children that have been affected by COVID and all the changes that they’re dealing with … this will be an outlet for them hopefully to come in and we can help with that. It’s a way to open up doors for us to serve more community members.”
She said SIRE always needs volunteers as they are the lifeblood of the organization, and the organization is also looking for more horses.
Wappelhorst said the site’s new additions will not only enhance services the organization provides to clients but also bring them closer to the community of Birnam Wood subdivision where the site is located.
He invites people to schedule a visit to learn more about SIRE’s mission and work. “We’re really happy to be a part of this community and give back in this way and make this investment to the long-term future of this community and to the people we serve,” Wappelhorst said. “We hope the community supports us in it, financially and volunteering, and donating horses and just coming to see what we do.”
Alvaro Montano, Staff writer
March 22, 2021