After experiencing several back-to-back devastating losses in her family in 2017 and 2018, Sarah Valentine, ’06, decided to turn her grief into a passion project.
The idea for Riverside Ranch, the 501c3 nonprofit she now runs, was inspired by both her love for horses and a desire to help others. Initially, Valentine wasn’t sure of the exact scope of the organization, but she knew she wanted to make a positive impact on individuals with special needs or those going through challenging circumstances like herself.
“In going through my own deep grief, I realized that being outside in nature and getting back into horseback riding helped me so much,” said Valentine. “I soon learned about therapeutic horseback riding and began the process to become certified to teach lessons.”
That’s when she started to really flesh out the idea for Riverside, which is a volunteer-run organization that sits on a 36-acre farm in Clayton, N.C. Riverside’s mission is to help individuals through therapeutic horseback riding and other equine-assisted activities.
Valentine serves as the executive director and founder of the ranch, but her day-to-day tasks vary based on the needs of the organization. “On a weekly basis, I’m teaching therapeutic riding lessons to individuals to help them cope with special needs or with grief,” she said. “But I also take care of our two horses and stay busy with administrative tasks, fundraising, training our volunteers, and farm work.”
After months of fundraising and support from Valentine’s community, Riverside opened its barn doors on July 25, 2020. In a year when therapy is in high demand, the organization has seen rapid growth, serving seven riders every week with the help of over 35 volunteers. “We are 100% volunteer run, including myself,” said Valentine. “I volunteer all my time which is about 40-50 hours a week, alongside our volunteers who give lessons, do barn chores, and help with administrative tasks.” In total, about 100 hours of volunteer work is required each week to keep the ranch up and running.
What keeps Valentine going is her steadfast belief that life is about helping one another. “Riverside Ranch is built by our community, for our community, and is a place of community,” she said. “It is a very rewarding job, giving back to others and working with individuals of all abilities.”
It was through the constant encouragement of her peers and business professors at Meredith that Valentine initially learned to think outside the box and chase big dreams. “I was instilled with great confidence at Meredith and earned an amazing and strong education,” she said.