SANTA – The Celebration Hall at Santa’s Lodge was filled with members of the Spencer County community coming together to celebrate a local organization that has changed lives and spread hope over the past two decades.
Stir-n-Up Hope is located in Santa Claus and offers horse-assisted activities (EAA) for people with any type of disability. They also offer Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) which emphasizes the importance of relationships, reading body language and other life skills.
The celebration began with a social hour where attendees could gather to view silent and live auction items and play different western-themed games.
After enjoying a meal, prepared by Oink Inc., Spring Celebration attendees had the opportunity to hear from several guest speakers. Speakers discussed their personal journey with the organization and Stir-n-Up Hope’s plans for the next 20 years.
The first guest speaker was Kelly Epperson. Kelly and her husband, Tommy Epperson founded Stir-n-Up Hope in 2002.
Kelly began with their mission statement, “Our mission is that through our efforts of love, guidance, time, prayers and partnership with the horse, we can kindle the hope that is within each participant and achieve goals that were once considered impossible.”
What started small has grown into so much more with the help of friends, family, participants and volunteers. They have grown to have both a barn and an indoor arena where EAA and EAL participants, instructors and volunteers work together to maintain this mission.
Kelly explained that it started with her friend’s daughter, Hannah. Hannah’s doctor recommended horseback riding as a good way to help her regain her balance. That not finding his balance prevented him from walking.
After seeing how horseback riding helped Hannah, Kelly and Tommy realized that was what the Lord wanted them to do. After being inspired by Hannah and her family, they were inspired to give hope to others, which is how the organization got its name.
Kelly also shared a few different stories of former participants and how the EAA and EAL had a positive impact on their lives.
The next speaker of the evening was Brittany Wilson. She told how her mother and Kelly were friends, and the first time she rode a horse was at Kelly’s house. Shortly after losing her mother as a child, she was accepted as a rider in the Stir-n-Up Hope program. The horses gave him responsibility and something to look forward to and set goals for.
After her father died when she was 10, she had to leave the barn. But when she was 16, she started working in another barn. She has made a career out of her passion for horses, trains horses, gives lessons and is an excellent rider. She now gives back to Stir-n-Up Hope by helping train their horses.
Another speaker for the evening was Beth Hoffman, who shared the story of her son Caleb and his time with Stir-n-Up Hope. He was told that Caleb would never be able to walk or form a sentence. Caleb has been on the program for many years, and with the help of Stir-n-Up Hope, he brought a child who couldn’t walk or talk to a child who loves people, jokes and music.
There were several other moving speakers who shared their stories and experiences with the organization.
One of the speakers was Judge John Dartt, who explained how the Spencer County Juvenile Court System has used the program to help children in the court system, victims of abuse or neglect, or children at risk.
They also partner with school systems and have seen the positive impacts of nearly every child who participates. Dartt explained how this program should be widely used by Spencer County because of its importance to children.
The final speaker of the evening was Chairman of the Board, Jerry Steckler. Steckler outlined Stir-n-Up Hope’s short-term and long-term goals for the next 20 years.
For short-term goals, they hope to collaborate with three other schools. In the long term, their vision is to have two more secondary locations to offer their EAA and EAL programs.
He also added how the community can help them achieve their vision through donations. To learn more about the organization or what the donations will be used for, visit https://www.stir-n-uphope.org/. Steckler also thanked his sponsors for the evening.
After the evening’s speakers concluded, there was a live auction followed by dancing with live music provided by the Flat Stanley Band.