It’s that time of year again. Time to rally our forces, plan for the new year and to let our supporters know what it is we’ve accomplished, what we do, and why it’s important.
This is a four-minute video of the beauty and the challenges we face at Square Peg Foundation.
Please support this work.
Indian summer is the best time of the year. Foggy mornings turn to warm days. But the daylight hours erode and longer nights sneak in. Soon the rains will come to the thirsty hills and quell the raging wildfires.
As days get shorter, I face the limitation of what we can accomplish in a day. Precious daylight hours are shrinking and caring for horses is difficult in the oncoming months. Volunteer excitement wanes and water pipes will freeze and break. Every year I’m older. Lifting feed and wrapping injured legs gets more difficult.
As mild as Coastal California winters are, chores must be done.
The heaviness I feel is not the shortened daylight hours but rather the weight of the waiting list.
Families are asking for help. Calls, texts, Facebook and Instagram messenger, emails and visits. Their stories haunt us. They fill out our online forms and I tell them about the waiting list.
Can I bear to tell them about the other 120 families on the list? Our staff obsessively reviews the list. Instinctively, we press our palms to our hearts while reading the families’ stories. Sometimes we just hug each other and try to find the time and the strength to make more room.
Recognizing the waiting list is a testament to the quality of our work brings strength to our efforts.
I make the staff a cup of strong coffee and we remind each other that having a day off is critical to our health. But it doesn’t go down easily. Our eyes scan the weekly calendar looking for a slot, looking for an opportunity to make room for more.
Good business people wisely say- “just hire more staff.” We search our networks looking for potential staff with the”it” factor. The people who “get it.” People with mad horsemanship skills, curiosity, joie de vivre, humor, humility, responsibility. People who embrace their experience of feeling like an outcast and flipping the script for the learners in their charge. People who understand the toxicity of our own narrow mindedness and courageously explore and expand their humanity. People who know the restorative power of laughter. People who can catch lizards, re-word Irish drinking songs and hip-hop singles into age appropriate jingles on the fly. People willing to be vigilant and vulnerable, with superior judgement, natural compassion and an ability to care deeply are treasures not easily found.
The weight of the waiting list gets heavier when people call with a horse that can no longer carry their dreams on the racetrack, the show ring or down trails. They want their horse to bring joy to Square Peg families. I have to tell them we are more than full, and that our time and budgets and space are already over taxed. I stay awake at night thinking of placements for those horses. Sometimes, I have ideas or suggestions or options – but not always and the weight is heavy.
The weight of the waiting list means carving out time to advise people who have a dream to start or grow a similar program. Perhaps our experience can benefit new programs that will serve their communities.
I sit with the weight of the waiting list in the early morning before the horses are fed. In the quiet before the daily joyful circus starts I think about the beautiful things that unfolded yesterday – of the challenges the day will bring. I’m inspired by the curious open faces of the horses who greet me and I do what I can to connect to that eagerness – that ability to stand in the moment with an open heart.
Being present is lovely but I’m the executive director bearing the weight of the waiting list. Planning, learning from past mistakes, building, re-organizing, supporting are tasks I must face.
The weight of the waiting list is a calling to growth, to cultural change. It’s a chance to prove, what we know is true – that care, safe spaces, dignity and joy heal our minds, our families and our communities.
Joell Dunlap, October 3, 2021