Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-profits

Joell and I founded Square Peg Foundation in 2004, the same year Craigslist Foundation had their first “Boot Camp for Non-profits.” That first Boot Camp was an amazing experience for me, and since then I have only missed one.

As Craigslist Foundation describes it:

Boot Camp is an inspiring and unique community effort that connects people to the resources they need to help build stronger and healthier communities. Our focus is simple – to connect, motivate and inspire greater community impact.

[From Craigslist Foundation’s Boot Camp]

If you work at a non-profit, volunteer, serve on a board, or have always dreamed of starting something that really matters, you should join us at the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-profits! I hope we’ll see you there.

Join Us – Square Peg Needs Your Help

I have a confession to make.  Many of you have seen photos of me teaching the kids vaulting tricks, including standing on a moving horse.  My confession; I’ve taught hundreds of kids to do it, but I haven’t done it.  Ever.  Because I was always too scared as a kid to let go and I never trusted the horse or the person holding the longe rope to take care of me.  Every time a student trusts me and the horse enough to try, I’m left breathless.

You see, at Square Pegs, it’s not about what we can teach you.  It’s about believing you can do the impossible and then actually doing it.  We believe that nobody has ever taught a student anything.  Learning comes from within the student.  As a teacher, that’s a really humbling thought.

I could write on and on about all the compassion that we show for the animals here and how that inspires the students.  I could tell you how we all work at the same important, dirty and difficult tasks that it takes to run a ranch with 20+ horses.  The real truth is that the concept of EveryOne Fits is all about the way the animals see us and how that changes us.

Because the horses and other animals don’t care about the label on your shoes, or that you talk with a funny accent, walk with a limp or that you repeat yourself when you are excited.  The barn dog doesn’t care that you spent last night in a homeless shelter, but she does know that you are feeling fearful. The crazy goats will make you smile even if you flunked your spelling test yesterday.

The animals teach us a few absolutes too; that compassion always conquers fear or that some days were just meant for letting the sun shine on your face and for breathing clean air.

I don’t need to tell you that our world is changing faster than ever before.  That our children will inherit a vastly different planet.  The time has come to take a harsh look at how we teach and how our children are taught and what they are learning and what they aren’t.  Rote memory and overfilled classrooms will never teach them to accept themselves and to appreciate their own curiosity.

These animals will.

Our animals are rescues, throwaways, retirees.  Our students deal with autism, homelessness, drug addiction, loneliness and normal teenage angst.  Here’s a quick idea of what Square Peg Horses have taught them:

Seeing the world set out full of disappointment and failure
A blinded truth
I was once blind
But was given a gift
To see through the eyes of a horse

A strength grows over all that is dark
Able to comprehend a person and see only what should be seen
Courageous and triumphant over the world’s complications
Believing I can do anything
Now that I’ve seen through the eyes of a believer
My life saving gift from a little grey horse.

from Through the Eyes of a Believer by Natalia Feliz

If someone needs a helping hand, the
animals will be there.
If someone feels restricted and isolated,
an animal will encourage them

written by Amy Bell

A horse’s friendship is like a dream
Brushing his hair
Feeling comfortable
Next to me
Riding on his back
Is like floating in the sky
Why do horses have to die?
Will they go to heaven
Just like us?

submitted anonomously by a Square Peg student

So, with the efforts of the horse, the staff, some fantastic volunteers, we strive to inspire people:

to own their education

to own their experience

and ultimately to own their actions.

Because this makes us better people.

Because this is what it means to  turn “I wish” into “I can.”

I humbly ask you to join us in this work by your support as we change our world one horse, one student at a time.

Click here to make a donation.

Thank you.

San Francisco Cronicle article today about

Today’s SF Chronicle ran an article about  If you haven’t visited the site, you might want to treat yourself.

Square Peg’s profile is located at

It’s so refreshing to see technology innovate to bring attention the the causes you care about and not just the ones that can afford to get your attention.  Another reason I love the internet….

Let’s Talk

We are going to pepper this blog with stories of horses, the kids they touch, about the nature of real learning and reflections about what education is and isn’t. You will meet people who have graced the ranch with their presence and left us all wiser and richer. We are going to publish the artwork and poems and essays that come from the hearts of the students and volunteers of the ranch.


Square Pegs is not just a rescue ranch or adaptive riding program. Ultimately, it’s a movement that helps us all understand who we are through learning from the animals and the land and each other.

Let’s talk about what’s on our mind.

Let’s talk about :

  • what it feels like to be a Square Peg in a Round Hole


  • or about animals and people who need a second chance


  • or about education – what’s working and what’s not.
  • what do YOU think about competitive horse sports? Do you love or hate racing? How about polo?


Let’s chat about why it’s important to let kids take responsibility for large animals, or to have the space and quiet time to get to know them.

How about a discussion of why diagnosis of Autism and Childhood Diabetes is skyrocketing?

What do you think about using OTTB’s as school horses?


Square Pegs is committed to having these conversations and having them out loud so that we can all learn from each other. We want to learn to be more compassionate, more effective and more informed. And we can’t do it without you.

Join the discussion. Send us your thoughts, share the blog with folks that have something to say. Remember Everyone Fits. Just don’t be mean.

A student’s perspective

My name is Max Freiberger. I am in 8th grade. I’m here to share with my you what it’s like to be a kid with disabilities. I am one of those kids, because I have Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, and other health problems. I want to let you know how they affect my life.

Tourette’s Syndrome is a very frustrating disease. It makes you twitch and tic and twist and kick and move uncontrollably when you don’t want to. It tires you out. It makes you ache from the inside out. It frustrates you. It makes you feel out of control. It makes you feel powerless. And it can lead to acting without thinking.

I don’t know why all this happens. I try hard to think about what I’m doing so that I won’t harm someone or myself. It’s hard for me and I don’t always succeed. But I try.

I do it by talking to myself. I remind myself to be quiet. I remind myself that the punishment or consequences of getting angry is worse than the reward of being angry at the moment. But, sometimes nothing works. Not even the dozens and dozens of medication I have tried over the years.

Let me come back to what it’s like to live with these kinds of problems. I don’t have a lot of friends. I’m not sure why.

I used to have a lot of friends at school until about 4th grade when my Tourettes got really bad. I feel very isolated because I had to change schools. I used to go to a Jewish school in San Francisco. I went there until my Tourettes got so bad that I needed an aid to go to class with me. They don’t have aids and my parents could not afford one, so I had to go to a public school where I could have an aid. But, they put me in a special education class. I am not learning anything because I am so much more advanced than the rest of the class that I actually don’t learn anything new. The teacher can’t teach two different curriculums at once.

The only thing I have learned at this school is ASL, American Sign Language. Now I know a little over 600 words. The reason I learned Sign Language was so I could volunteer as a Teacher’s Aid and help with the kids in the autistic classroom. In this class, there are kids with Autism, Down syndrome and Mental Retardation. All but one of the kids has trouble talking because their brains won’t let them even though they understand. So I’m helping them learn Sign Language. Autistic kids have a communication disorder, an obsession with themselves and a short attention span.

Most of these kids cannot phonic read, which means that they cannot sound words out, they can only memorize what words look like. They are not able to read any books yet unless they memorize each word in that book. It is really hard for them. The kids with autism often take in everything you say and they don’t forget. They just can’t communicate it and are probably a lot smarter than we are.

One of the kids has Asperger syndrome. He is able to read closer to his age-level. A kid with Asperger syndrome is a lot like an autistic kid but with a more mild case of autism. I love helping in this class. The teachers seem be understanding of what it is like for me. And it is fun to help the kids. I have a lot of patience with the kids just like people try and have with me.

What I think people need to understand about children with special needs is that you shouldn’t try to understand. You just can’t. There is no way you can put yourself in our shoes. You can try to understand but really there is no way to comprehend what it is like to live your life as a child with special needs.

You just have to understand that no matter what we do that we are not bad kids.

We just need more help and patience. And remember that we learn differently. An example is that one day while helping with one of the kids the special education teachers could not figure out a way to teach him to count. So they asked me for any ideas and I suggested using different types of toys as symbols. For example, watermelons mean one, triangles mean two, bananas three and banana plus watermelon means four. This approach worked. Imagine that!

I learn a lot from other special needs kids. I go to an awesome horseback riding ranch called Square Peg in Half Moon Bay. This is a non-profit foundation to teach all kids with and without special needs to care for and ride horses. The people at Square Peg rescue racehorses that would be slaughtered otherwise. Square Peg spends time retraining them as riding horses for children with special needs. I have gone to Square Peg Ranch since I was five. I used to only ride but now I am a student teacher and volunteer and I help other special needs kids. This is a place where we can be ourselves and have fun and be accepted. I wish there were more places like this in my world. If anyone is interested in learning more or volunteering or helping in any way about Square Peg, talk to me.

In closing, I hope that all of you remember that we are just kids who might need some patience, a little extra help and allowed to be a little different.

But, most of all what I am trying to say is you just need to love us anyway.

GiveMeaning interview with eHub…

There are a lot of people doing interesting and creative things on the internet related to philanthropy, and this is just another wonderful example. On Emily Chang – eHub Interviews, Emily talks with Tom Williams, the creator of GiveMeaning. Wonderful stuff. Just read it!

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Why Blog?

The Donor Power Blog has a good article on the reasons a non-profit should blog and the reasons they should not:

Donor Power Blog: Should your nonprofit blog?

So, what are our reasons for starting this blog? Well, for one thing, it was easy. Joell and I are comfortable writing, so that makes it easier for us (other than finding the time). The blog software we use, Movable Type, is very easy to use and provides all the sophisticated interfaces for syndication, plug-ins, authoring, comments and trackbacks. And now we’re going to hook it more directly into our website so that it serves as regularly updated content there. Joell uses ecto, which is wonderful on the Mac, and I use Performancing and the Movable Type web interface because ecto on windows just doesn’t work as well. (I can’t WAIT to be off of my windows machine! But that’s a topic for anotherposting.)

But mostly we started this blog because we wanted to capture more of the stories about what we do and what happens every day at Square Pegs. As we teach, learn about running and non-profit and note interesting trends and ideas, we hope people come to understand better what this is all about a are compelled to get involved. Maybe they’ll send us a check, or maybe they’ll volunteer. Or maybe they’ll be inspired to go support some other cause that really has their heart. That’s OK too!

The Donor Power Blog article mentions how few people are “reading blogs”. But I don’t think that’s really a barrier. Your own supporters are your first customers for your blog. If they know you are blogging and are interested in your cause ( and have computer access), they’ll come and read what you write. Make sure they like it, and make sure they believe that what you’re writing captures the story of your organization.

I also believe that many people have read a blog but don’t even know it. To them it’s just a website. But folks (techies like me) get hung up on the specifics and on the buzz-words. Heck, our friend Joe Shelton has a blog, and doesn’t even know it – because he just writes a new story every day on the front page of his website. No archive, no categories, no RSS feed, just great stories about life on a Horse Rescue ranch. I don’t just call it a blog because he updates it all the time, but because it’s all about the stories. That’s the key – the stories.

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Technology use in Non-Profits

I’m doing some planning for the second half of our fiscal year (January – June) and I’m finding it very useful to watch the “nptech” tag on Technorati. This allows me to easily see new blog postings and news regarding the use of technology in the non-profit sector. Check out the technorati listing here:

Technorati Tag: nptech

Since many of you are not really techies, I’ll explain a little. A Blog is just a space for regular news or commentary, or items of interest. Some Blogs are very specific (such as Square Pegs blog). A specifically creeated tag like nptech allows the community to identify each other quickly and find new folks. Technorati is a service for “tagging” blogs and finding them according to how they are “tagged”. The bookmarking/tagging service is another system that works a little differently.

The whole noptech idea came from some conversations on Omidyar Network, a wonderful community of people, all committed to making a difference