Leadership Geauga brings helping hands together

May 6—Whether they're a graduate or current class member, Leadership Geauga's Annual Day of Service allows people to inspire more engagement in the community.

May 6, the community-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization brought together a total of 45 alumni and current class members of the adult program to take on two service projects at In Step With Horses in Chester Township, as well as at the Doors of Hope in Middlefield.

"We get so much support from our community, and they come out for Service Day," Leadership Geauga Executive Director Meredith Ashkettle said.

Located at 7212 Wilson Mills Road, In Step With Horses is a 6-year-old nonprofit that relocated to Chester Township in October 2022 from a facility they were previously renting in Chagrin Falls.

"We're getting to know the property, so we've got a lot of projects for beautification, as well as making the space a little bit more useful for programming," said Chris Goodall, clinical director and one of the founders of In Step With Horses. "It's wonderful that Leadership Geauga was willing to come out and help with some of the projects we've got going on on the farm."

The service project Leadership Geauga alumni took on at In Step With Horses had a landscaping focus.

"There's a flower bed along the fence here that the team is cleaning up and removing a lot of overgrowth," said Al Van Zeeland, a member of Leadership Geauga's Alumni Committee, which coordinates and plans events for graduates. "That'll turn into a planter for flowers and plants."

In addition, a raised bed garden was something in which alumni had a hand.

"Chris had mentioned she'd like to have a garden for her clients to plant vegetables and work in, so when we were scoping out the project, we found an old hay feeder that wasn't being used," Van Zeeland said. "We're repurposing that to be the planter."

Van Zeeland participated in the program in 2017 and graduated in 2019. On a personal level, Van Zeeland enjoys the connection to the community through Leadership Geauga and staying involved.

"It's a nice program for learning about yourself and leadership skills, and self development," he said.

At the back of the property, alumni spent their time working to create an outdoor learning space, which will eventually include a mindfulness trail and spaces where people are able to meet, Goodall said. Additional and more appropriate pasture for the horses was also created.

"We provide equine assistance services with a mental health focus, so our primary focus is on mental wellbeing," Goodall said. "We do provide psychotherapy incorporating horses, nature and other animals, as well as equine assisted learning, which are programs for groups."

Goodall said In Step With Horses enjoys partnering with other community organizations such as Leadership Geauga so they're able to share their love of horses and nature.

"We offer riding lessons for both children and adults," she said. "We're currently signing up people for summer lesson programs. Those start June 3."

For Goodall, Leadership Geauga was an awesome experience for her. She said she would encourage anyone to become a part of the nonprofit.

"I didn't grow up in Geauga County," Goodall said. "I knew my way around, but I didn't know the community until I completed Leadership Geauga. I feel like I now have not only networked wonderful connections, but I'm much more aware of how our community runs."

When those a part of Leadership Geauga get together, they make an impact in a short amount of time, said Becki Gierman, alumna.

"Leadership Geauga gathers the most civic-minded people in our community," she said. "It feels good to be doing something with our local nonprofits and neighbors."

Meanwhile, the Leadership Geauga Class of 2023 came together for a spring yard beautification project to help Doors of Hope Geauga, which provides shelter and supportive services to families facing homelessness.

"The property sits on four plus acres and the home is surrounded by flower beds," Doors of Hope Program Director Michelle Maneage said. "The team cleaned six flower beds, planted flowers and spread fresh mulch, bringing the yard to life again after a long winter."

Leadership Geauga also created a play area where the children of Doors of Hope are able to explore and exercise.

"The team graciously put together a sandbox for the play area and secured a generous donation of sand," Maneage said. "In addition, the team cleared an area on the far back part of the property to create a serene area reserved for prayer and meditation that is surrounded by plants, and trees."

Maneage said the Doors of Hope are honored the team wanted to put their best foot forward to be sure families would feel the community support.

"Many hands came together to not only do the work, but provide donated materials that will create a beautiful space for families to heal and grow," she said. "Being homeless, no matter how long, is a traumatic experience, so joining forces with an organization like Leadership Geauga to show our families that their community cares for them and rallies behind them is truly meaningful."