Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Watkins “C” Ranch in Kansas City, Kan., holds a special place in the heart of Fort Leavenworth Scout Emily Harris, 16, which is why she said it made sense for her to choose an Eagle Scout project that benefitted it.
Watkins Ranch is where Harris, now a member of Scouts BSA Troop 166, first took horseback riding lessons at the age of 6 while her family was stationed at Fort Leavenworth in 2010 when the ranch was in Atchison, Kan.
When Harris’ family returned to Fort Leavenworth in 2018, while the ranch prepared to relocate to Kansas City, she learned about Horses4Hope, a local non-profit organization, founded by former ranch owner Tonya Theis in 2015. The organization works to provide therapeutic equine services to those with special needs, veterans and others. This includes people who use wheelchairs, which is where Harris’ project comes in as Harris and volunteers from Troop 166, Troop 366, and Lansing Venture Crew 2165 came together Nov. 1 and 7 to complete it.
“The program itself (Horses4Hope) is like therapy riding, so we’re building a wheelchair ramp for people who can’t stand or can only stand a little bit and can’t get up onto their horse,” Harris said. “When you’re riding, the horse moves back and forth and even though you’re not really walking, it makes it feel like you’re walking.
“For people who can’t (walk), it really helps them keep moving even when they can’t move themselves,” she said. “It’s really soothing, too. That’s another benefit. Even if you don’t have some kind of disability like that, the program also helps veterans with (posttraumatic stress).”
Ranch co-owner Michael Green said the ramp will benefit the program well.
“Right now, we have to lift some people up onto those horses and it’s not the safest,” he said. “We do it all by the guidelines, but it’s still nice to have something to where they can feel more comfortable getting on the horse with that ramp to help.”
To raise money for the project, Harris gathered donations from Lowe’s and Home Depot for the lumber, plus donations from area businesses for the vinyl banner to display above the ramp. The ranch also gathered donations for the project with various fundraisers that Harris participated in.
“(Emily) worked really hard to raise money and get it to where it is now,” said Megan Green, Horses4Hope co-founder.
Darcy Harris, Emily’s mom, said her daughter has executed the project well.
“Emily is a planner, so she plans everything to the minute detail. She’s stepping out of her element in being in charge of the people putting it together,” Darcy Harris said. “She’s trying to step back and be the one overseeing when she really just wants to be the one pushing all the screws into the wood.
“This project was one that really hits home and has a lot of meaning for her with her history with Watkins and taking lessons with them,” she said.
Sarah Groefsema, Troop 166 Scoutmaster, agreed.
“It is a very unique project and something that speaks to her and her heart as well as a program…that’s going to help a lot of people and a lot of different kinds of people,” Groefsema said. “To create something from nothing is fantastic. She saw a need, came up with an idea and now she’s fulfilling that need.”
Emily Harris said she has high hopes for the benefit of her project.
“I hope that (the ramp) can help all the people who come here even if they’re not part of the (therapy) program. There’s a lot of little kids who come here that can’t get up onto the horses on their own either,” Harris said. “I hope it can help the people in the program and the younger kids and basically anyone else who needs it.”