Friday, June 22, 2012
Urquart awards handed out to PRDA
Released by Anne Russell, UFV
Urquhart was one of UFV's first employees, and her commitment to
building a strong relationship between UFV and the Fraser Valley
community is one that lasts to this day.
passed away in 1995, UFV renamed its service awards as the Betty
Urquhart community service award to honour community members or
groups that are committed to the same cause.
This year the Betty Urquhart award is
shared between two dedicated groups: the teen/senior program at the
Agassiz Centre for Education (ACE), and the Chilliwack branch of
Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities (PRDA).
Both groups will received their awards at
the UFV convocation ceremony on June 14.
Sandy Balascek, who runs the senior/teen
program through ACE, has no doubt that "her kids" are deserving of
this award. Fifteen of the students involved will be at the ceremony
to receive the award on behalf of ACE.
Balascek says the program grew from the students' reputation as "bad
"The perception was that they were broken and were sent to this
alternative program to be fixed," Balascek explains, "But a lot of
kids are here by choice because they knew they weren't fitting in or
learning at a normal high school."
Balascek says a lot of people thought she was crazy for trying to
put seniors and teens together, but she had a good feeling about it.
Sure enough, while the kids weren't too keen on the idea to begin
with, the program soon blossomed.
"It only took a couple of afternoons and the next thing I knew, more
and more kids wanted to go, and more and more seniors wanted to be
involved too," Balascek says. "We went from a half-empty home to a
The program gained a lot of attention this past Christmas when the
teens in the program gave up their Christmas morning to spend it
with seniors who had no family. The students ran fundraising events,
wrapped gifts, and arrived at the legion hall at six-thirty in the
morning to have breakfast ready by eight.
"They just jumped at the chance," says Balascek. "These kids have
become so community-minded."
Daphne Clegg had similar ideas of building a community when she
helped found the Chilliwack branch of PRDA almost 30 years ago.
Bringing together kids with disabilities and horses seemed like a
"It's sort of a twofold thing: the kids get a half-hour long
therapeutic riding lesson, and their parents get networking time
with other parents, who are dealing with similar challenges," Clegg
explains. "We started with one pony and a couple of riders, and now
we've really created a community."
Starting the Chilliwack PRDA section was an idea that evolved from
Clegg's previous work both with horses and children with
disabilities; she volunteered in Victoria with a therapeutic riding
association, and later with children with disabilities in Vancouver.
When she moved out to Chilliwack and had a child of her own, she
decided to give back to the community.
"I've always had a horse," Clegg says, "and Pat, who I'd just met,
was also a horsey person and had two young kids of her own. I
needled her until she caved, and we started with one pony and a
couple of volunteers. It just grew from there."
The Chilliwack PRDA now has five horses, a plethora of volunteers,
and more than 30 kids who ride every week.
For kids who are usually wheelchair-bound, the movement of the horse
helps mimic the movement of the pelvis, and in a couple of cases,
physical therapy of riding negated the need for surgery.
Riding is also a huge confidence boost for every child, as they
develop a bond both with the horses and the other riders.
"The kids have this sense of belonging, where they're not the weird
ones out," Clegg says. "And their siblings are jealous of them, for
once, because they're the ones that get to ride."
The program is immensely popular; there are currently over 40 on the
waitlist. Although there is a small fee for riders, the PRDA in
Chilliwack is completely volunteer-run. "It's a nominal fee of $150
a year, which is very little compared to similar programs," says
Clegg. "We can even help meet that if parents are struggling. That
was our mandate to ourselves -- to keep it affordable for
And there have been many moments over the years that have made it
all worth it.
"Just seeing the community we've built, and the kids that come back
years later to visit us as adults," Clegg says. "Lots of them come
back to visit, and there are always lots of hugs and smiles... it's
thrilling to see the community we've built around riding, as well as
the connections both parents and riders build with each other."
Both the ACE teen/senior program and the Chilliwack branch of PRDA
were presented with their Betty Urquhart community service award at
UFV's convocation ceremony on June 14 in Abbotsford.
Copyright (c) 2012 The Valley Voice