Sailors offer help and hope through volunteerism
(Photo: US Navy, Michael J Lopez)

By Julie M. Lucas Naval Air Station Jacksonville Public Affairs

Seabees from Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit (CBMU) 202 Detachment Jacksonville have spent nearly two months bettering a place that is dedicated to helping others.

The Sailors are participating in a community relations venture offering their services to build various outdoor projects at Hope Therapy located in Middleburg, Florida.

Hope Therapy, a non-profit equine therapy program, was created in 2001 by Marianne Davenport, a former Army nurse, and her daughter Becky, an occupational therapist. The ranch works with the Wounded Warrior Project, Veteran’s Administration and other veterans’ groups, as well as children with developmental and learning disabilities. Hope Therapy is the only PATH International Premier Accredited Center in Northeast Florida.

Some of the horses at the ranch were donated and all receive extensive training to work with patients. The Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville chapel sponsors one of the horses, which work with patients.

Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Joanna Madrid, NAS Jacksonville’s command climate specialist, began volunteering at Hope Therapy last year, helping prepare horses for therapy sessions and assisting therapists with clients. During one of her visits to the ranch, she learned about some projects needed to enhance a new area created to allow visitors a quiet place to relax and reflect.

Madrid reached out to Senior Chief Constructionman Michael Blackney of CBMU-202 to see if the Seabees could assist.

“As Seabees, we are passionate about reaching out to our local communities and this gives us opportunities to sharpen up our skillsets,” said Blackney. “After our initial visit to the ranch, we saw that there could be more done there.”

After the ranch owners put in a gazebo, a walkway was needed, as well as additional seating. In a shaded spot under giant oak trees, benches were created around a tree. A fire pit was added with wooden benches surrounding the area.

Another project was creating a pergola which the Seabees came up on their own. When it comes to finding design ideas, some might be surprised that the Sailors don’t have to do much research.

“We actually found this idea on Pinterest. We printed out the instructions and got the materials to build it,” said Steelworker 2nd Class Stephanie Archuleta of CBMU-202.

“The pergola offers a nice place for people to wait while their family member is going through therapy,” said Becky Davenport. “The Seabees have done such an awesome job out here and we really appreciate them helping us out.”

To celebrate the opening of the new “reflection” area, Hope Therapy held a special ribbon cutting ceremony on May 20.

“This is such a beautiful area under the oak trees. We wanted to open this area up so veterans and first responders can come here and just have a quiet place to relax,” said Becky.

Madrid and her God-daughter, Sanaa Villa-Nuvea spend nearly every Saturday at the ranch. “I love horses and kids so this is the perfect place,” said Madrid. “Sanaa and I really enjoy being out here, learning about the horses and helping out. We muck stalls, groom the horses and assist with therapy sessions. It’s so peaceful here and everyone is so caring.”

Lt. Erin Thorpe of Navy Region Southeast is also a regular volunteer at the ranch. “I feel it’s just as much therapy for me working with the animals and I really enjoy giving back to the community,” said Thorpe. “I love working with horses and children.”

Cindy Ballantyne, former Army veteran with non combat post-traumatic stress disorder and depression says that coming to Hope Therapy has changed her life and given her confidence. In one year of volunteering twice a week, she has lost 55 lbs. and gained a new perspective on life.
“This place calms me down,” Ballantyne said, while grooming her favorite horse, Roanie.

Other plans for the ranch include a riding/walking trail around the ranch (17 acres) and possibly a big tree house area in the majestic oaks.