Service, community engagement and student involvement

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Impact Service Days at San Diego Christian College in Santee is all about giving back to the community and instilling a sense of altruism in students. It partners with nonprofits, getting students outside campus walls, learning new things and seeing what is happening in the community.

Gidgitte Dougherty, SDCC service life director, said each semester they contact organizations, asks what they need and what students can do to make an impact. She said SDCC began working with Sunshine Ranch Therapeutic Riding in Lakeside during fall semester.

“Usually we pack up vans, send students out into the community and different organizations, but due to COVID we brought it back on campus,” said Dougherty. “It is a brand new concept. So we contacted organizations and asked them what they needed that would be helpful that we could do here on campus and then see their work to fruition. That is a big part. Many times, when people serve, they do not always see the people that they serve, and they never get to take part in the activities or understand why. They just know they are doing something.”

Sunshine Ranch provides therapeutic horseback riding and horsemanship lessons for children and adults with special needs. Stephanie Tutschulte, Sunshine Ranch founder and executive director, said the program is extremely goal oriented with its one-on-one sessions and lessons are tailored for each rider. Goals include working toward increasing core strength for independent walking, self-confidence, balance, coordination, awareness, and social and speech communication skills.

“The beautiful thing about working with horses and working outside is we see benefits that were never intended,” said Tutschulte. “There is a lot of physiological and neurological improvement that our students experience that just come along with the territory.”

Tutschulte said boarding and working out of Heartland Ranch Equestrian Center gives her students many fun areas to ride, different obstacle courses to work on, kind people, fun animals that helps the center integrate its program.

“The more information and input we give our brain, the more our brain will continue to grow and form new pathways,” she said.

Dougherty said that is where the students stepped in to help. Having to stay on campus, the college purchased ground poles and decorated them to bring a joyful experience to the ranch’s students. She said the students were extremely creative with the designs using tie-dye, polka dots, and students were finally able to go to the ranch in November to help install and decorate more obstacle pieces for the students.

“Stephanie’s students really enjoy them as they do their riding lessons,” she said. “It also helps them with the lessons she gives them. They are fun.”

Dougherty said they divided with about 15 students for each on-site impact day, and the ability of students seeing what the ranch does for its students not only brings impact to the ranch but to the students, as well as to see their work in motion and come to fruition.

“We want our students to take the things they do and understand why they are doing them,” she said. “My department works hard on getting students to understand those concepts. What it means to serve and how it helps that organization. My hope is after they are done with college that they keep helping different organizations and become altruistic in nature.”

Tutschulte said working with the students was a blessing. She said that though the work was delayed due to the pandemic, it was worth the wait, and the obstacles they created were a perfect match for her lessons.

“On three different occasions they had students gather at their school, and twice they had students come out to Sunshine Ranch to volunteer to build and paint everything,” she said. “They made us a couple of really cute stop signs, some mailboxes, and fun colorful ground poles. The goal of these lesson obstacles is to engage our students as they ride and make it more fun. We camouflage a lot of work to make it fun. Our students and volunteers enjoy working with these fun new obstacles. In addition, they helped us raise more awareness of Sunshine Ranch as they worked on their goal of serving other organizations.”

Tutschulte said it is important that the ranch provides a supportive and encouraging environment where her students can feel good about themselves. She said they gain confidence as they work toward their goals and it is a safe place for them.

“Once we are in lessons, the movement of the horse provides a lot for our students,” she said. “Being outside, working in nature, interacting with the people and the horses that they know and trust on their team they get to have a lot of fun while we are working on making a difference.”

Service, community engagement and student involvement