Many times, rescue horses and at-risk youth come from similar situations and environments. Partnering them to work together teaches both lessons in trust and patience.

The Youth Connect Program, through the Dream Catcher Farms Rescue in St. Anne, provides at-risk youth the opportunity to connect with rescue horses to gain a better understanding of horses and themselves. The program pairs youth with rescue horses to teach respect, responsibility, trust, compassion and patience — qualities necessary to succeed in everyday life and become positive productive members of the community.

“When at-risk youth learn how to connect with the rescue horses, they take away valuable life lessons,” said Michelle Crecy, who operates the farm and program with her husband, Cory, who was raised in foster homes and group homes the majority of his adolescence. “They learn that hard work is necessary to achieve both short-term and long-term goals.”

Dream Catcher Farms Rescue began when Michelle’s stepdad, Paul Taube, decided he wanted a horse farm. When Michelle and Cory visited, they immediately saw a change in their own sons, Cory, now 23, who has a traumatic brain injury, and Dion, now 22, who has several mental health issues including PTSD and OCD.

“We saw first hand how rescue horses helped our kids,” Michelle said. “We wanted to start a program for other kids to experience all the benefits of working with horses.”

When Paul passed away nine years ago, the family was determined to see his vision come to fruition. The Crecy family became a licensed horse rescue through the Illinois Department of Agriculture and soon began rescuing horses through owner surrenders and from other agencies.

The Youth Connect Program began this year. The first group of children to participate were those from a group home Cory once lived in.

“I understand the situation the kids are in,” he said. “Horses are good therapy. If you are sad or mad, take time and work with the horses and you feel great afterward. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Michelle said it’s amazing to see the transformation in the kids.

“One boy wouldn’t even touch a horse, he was so afraid,” she said. “By the end of his time here, he was riding the horses and loving every minute.”

Youth who participate can attend sessions twice per week. All sessions begin with youth learning about horse anatomy, horse breeds and program rules and expectations, all working up to horse handling and riding.

“We need to come together to help teach the youth in our community to be the best they can be and help them succeed in overcoming their environmental, emotional and behavioral obstacles,” Michelle said.

Youth also are introduced to careers in the equine field such as farrier, veterinarian, vet tech, even equine dentistry and equine chiropractic care.

Each month, the program has guest speakers discussing different topics such as health, nutrition, gang awareness, drug awareness, money management and filling out job applications.

The Crecys’ youngest son, Kane, works with the horses and mentors youth in the program.

“It’s amazing what we’re doing on the farm. It’s a great experience for those who come,” Kane said.

The Youth Connect Program and Dream Catcher Farms Rescue are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. All donations go directly toward the care of the rescue horses and the program. The Crecys noted through donations, scholarships to participate in the program are available.

“Donations in any amount help so we can help as many youth as possible with little to no cost to them,” Michelle said.

For more information, call 815-325-1828.

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