Phillips Exeter employees give back to community
EXETER— For Julia Fitzgerald, volunteering for a community service project at Wings and Hooves Therapeutic Riding Inc. was personal.
Fitzgerald's 8-year-old daughter, Catriona, rides horses at the East Kingston facility as a form of therapy to help with her sensory challenges.
"It's been an amazing experience. She can come here and get on a horse and she can ride. She doesn't have anyone telling her what to do. It's really built up her confidence," said Fitzgerald, who was one of more than 400 Phillips Exeter Academy employees who spent Thursday lending a hand at Wings and Hooves and two other locations — the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne State Park in Rye and YMCA Camp Lincoln in Kingston.
The academy closed its offices for the day to allow employees to participate in Community Connection Day before students return for the start of school this week.
The event, organized with help from City Year's Care Force, was a way for the PEA community to connect with surrounding communities.
The employees spent the day performing a variety of projects at the three locations. Their work included removing invasive plants, clearing trails and painting, constructing and repairing structures.
"Every single project is going to help enhance our program for current students as well as future students," said Kim Hughes, director of Wings and Hooves.
The program at the 169-acre farm assists children and adults with physical, emotional and developmental disabilities through equine-assisted activities, including therapeutic riding.
PEA employee Cary Wendell worked with others to build small wooden houses that will be placed along a sensory trail used by the students riding horses.
Wendell said he was happy to help. As someone who once worked at Seacoast Mental Health, Wendell understands first-hand the importance of programs like Wings and Hooves.
"It's just a simple relationship they have with the animals," he said.
Janice Ziemba, who also works at PEA, said the experience was a way for the faculty and staff to get to know coworkers better.
"It's nice to work with people you pass on campus," she said.