After a thorough review of applications, United Way of Western Nebraska has selected 16 agencies to receive grant funding from its 2020-2021 campaign.

One of those agencies is Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy in Gering. Since 1998, Kathy Gatch and her staff of volunteers have offered equine-assisted activities and pleasure horseback riding for disabled children and adults.

“Buckboard has been a longtime United Way funded agency partner,” Steph Black, United Way executive director, said. “We like the fact that Kathy utilized a lot of volunteer youth from the community. They make a big impact with families of children with disabilities. Parents often tell us how much progress their children have made from their riding sessions.”

While learning social and riding skills is the foundation of Buckboard’s program, they a new activity to teach basic economic skills.

The Buckboard staff  opened the “little store” two years ago, which was sparked by an idea of Makinzie Gregory,  who is Gatch’s granddaughter.

In addition to serving as the current Miss Scotts Bluff County, Gregory is an interim instructor, office assistant and social media manager for Buckboard. She’s also working on a degree as a physical therapy assistant.

“It’s for kids to learn about money management beyond just sitting on a horse and counting coins or flash cards,” Gregory said. “This is an application of a real life task they’ll need to know.”

As the kids learn social skills and working with others, they earn play money credits that can be used to purchase small toys from the store.

Gregory said the store is also a tool to help children learn patience, waiting to earn enough to purchase their must-have toy that might be out of their price range.

“When the kids come in, they’re at work, just like we are,” Gatch said. “If they do their jobs well and cooperate with others, they get paid with play money. That gives them incentive.”

According to Black, United Way wants to be sure the dollars are making the biggest impact they possibly can in our communities. Gatch is a good steward who does a good job of assuring that funding is staying in the community, providing real help.

Gatch said that without United Way funding, they probably would not be in operation. United Way funding pays for most of their operating expenses, about half of their total budget.

Gregory said it’s a big comfort knowing the support is there during a time when so many other sponsorship sources have cut back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

United Way based their grant awards on three specific areas: health, financial stability and education.

Agencies with a focus on financial stability that received funding were the Cirrus House Youth Program, CAPWN’s Family Stabilization Program, and the Stacy Houk Family Resource Center.

Funding also went to agencies that focus on education. They include the Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts Outreach Program, Guadalupe Center, Camp Scott Summer Program for Handicapped Children, TeamMates of Scotts Bluff County and CAPWN’s Western Nebraska Childhood Development Center.

Grants for agencies focused on health initiatives were awarded to Buckboard Therapeutic Riding Academy, CAPstone, the DOVES program, Carpenter Center, CASA of Scotts Bluff County, Plains West CASA and the Scotts Bluff County Volunteer Center.

“I’m so thankful to all the people at United Way for their support,” Gatch said. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to decide with so many needs in our community.”

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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