ANDOVER — Jeri Markarian, a Rowley native, was among the many volunteers of Ironstone Farm to be celebrated during the annual Volunteer Appreciation Day. She was introduced to Ironstone through her daughter, the Volunteer Program Manager, in April and has been volunteering here ever since.
Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm improves the lives of people with physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities through therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted programs. It serves a diverse population, including children and adults, early intervention clients, veterans and first responders with PSTD, cancer patients, people with substance use disorders, mental health issues, and more.
For over 12 years, Ironstone Farm has made Volunteer Appreciation Day a day to give back to volunteers and their families. After a two year absence due to COVID, volunteers and their families return in July 2022 with a fresh outlook.
The day started with a drill team show performed by graduating seniors and longtime employees for the volunteers. After the show, volunteers dispersed to enjoy the day’s activities, including pony rides, farm bingo, raffles, and roping lessons.
As a newcomer, Brenda Torrey, knew this was a great day to show her husband where she has been giving her time. After retirement, Brenda quickly started searching for places to volunteer in her community. As soon as Ironstone came across her radar, she was hooked on the “phenomenal operation.” But, while she said this day was fantastic, she still feels just as appreciated as any other day.
“You don’t feel like you’re wasting your time,” said Torrey. “Any time I’m at the farm, somebody is always thanking me for coming in.”
Wendy Morrissette, who’s been volunteering at Ironstone for over 20 years – doing everything from side walking to feeding to photography and getting the horses ready for their lessons – has been to many Volunteer Appreciation Days. Although she spends most of the day taking pictures of each activity rather than participating in them, she is still grateful to be there.
“It kept me alive, with how old I am, and I don’t know what I would have done without it,” said Morrissette. “It’s been the perfect place.”
Like Brenda and Wendy, many volunteers joined Ironstone after retiring to keep busy and give back, including Mark Brown. Although Mark was first introduced to Ironstone through his wife in 2019, this was his first Volunteer Appreciation Day. Mark spent the day with his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, where they enjoyed activities like face painting, meeting Spud the donkey, and his granddaughter’s personal favorite: pony riding.
Pony riding was a fan favorite, with volunteers and family members of all ages participating, including Jeri Markarian. The mother of Volunteer Program Manager, Julie Markarian, Jeri witnessed the benefits of hippotherapy among the clients she worked with on her very first day.
Volunteer Pam Weagraff has been aware of these benefits since the 1990s. Her nephew was an early participant in the farm’s therapeutic riding program, which greatly improved his emotional and cognitive wellbeing. With her career getting in the way, Pam had to step back, but she knew she wanted to come back as soon as she retired. Since coming back in March, Pam has noticed how much these employees do to make the volunteers appreciated compared to other organizations.
“I think this is awesome,” said Weagraff. “I do volunteer work for other organizations, and it’s very nice to be appreciated, and these folks work really hard, so to put extra effort into an event like this is above and beyond.”
Per tradition, a series of tug-of-war games were played with the various groups that attended the day. The first round was the staff versus the volunteers, where the volunteers won; the second round was junior working students and senior working students with the senior working students winning, and last was interns versus senior working students where the students won.