EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 27, 2013

Family donates to therapy farm

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — A local family has issued a challenge to anyone with a philanthropic itch to scratch: help us help Ironstone.

Doug and Diana Berthiaume, two Andover residents, have offered to donate $500,000 to Ironstone Farm, a non-profit organization that uses horseback riding and a farm environment to provide therapeutic opportunities to help both children and adults with a wide range of disabilities.

The donation comes in the form of a challenge, according to Ironstone Executive Director Deedee O’Brien.

The $500,000 donation comes through matching individual donations of $5,000 or more, totaling up to $500,000, O’Brien said.

Donations made by companies or businesses aren’t eligible for matching, according to O’Brien.

The announcement came at a recent reception at the Andover family’s home, marking the kickoff of a capital campaign geared to expanding Ironstone Farm’s programs and opportunities.

The campaign, “Campaign for Ironstone,” seeks to expand and complete the Ironstone Farm campus and improve the use of the on-campus facilities. The full campaign seeks to raise a total of $5 million, according to the campaign’s case statement.

With $500,000 matching another $500,000 in donations, O’Brien said the challenge is in effect a $1 million investment that will put a significant dent in the campaign early into its life.

“All of this is coming together with several different arms,” she said. “There are five arms to this campaign that we’ve decided to attack at once. We’re working now on priorities and where it will go first.”

The commitment from the Berthiaume family came after a child in the household spent years volunteering and riding at the organization, according to Diana Berthiaume.

“Our daughter opened our eyes to the extraordinary work being done by their talented and caring staff,” Diana Berthiaume said.

While Ironstone has been developing the campaign, “this takes it to a whole new level,” O’Brien said. “We’re putting together all the pieces to try and raise the funds against (the challenge) as quickly and efficiently as we can and still meet the needs or desires of the donors.”

Top doctors and major medical institutions refer clients to Ironstone Farm because of its programs and reputation, according to a press release.

Peter Raffalli, attending physician for child neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the Ironstone Therapy Board, said therapeutic riding “uses the horse to deliver traditional physical, occupational, and speech therapy in a unique way — providing integration of fine motor, gross motor, speech and sensory integration in one experience.”

Ironstone Farm clients come in with a variety of needs, according to O’Brien. The horse, through treatment, acts as an impartial healing force.

“The horse is an unbiased, innocent creature who has feelings,” she said. “Those feelings — he can sense if a person is healing, hurting, if a person needs a connection and is rejecting people around them.”

Many that move through the program have called it “a life-changing experience,” O’Brien said.

The challenge donation, on the other hand, “is a new world for us,” O’Brien said. “It’s a wonderful one.”

While the challenge could be seen as a $1 million donation in totality, it could lead to much bigger things, according to O’Brien.

“It gives us personal endorsement that (the Berthiaumes) believe in the program enough to make this sizable contribution and challenge the community to join them,” she said. “That means a lot to the staff, to the volunteers and the people we serve.”