Each year, Carousel Ranch, a nonprofit that offers equestrian therapy to children with special needs, usually hosts a sellout crowd at its Agua Dulce property for its annual Heart of the West fundraiser.
With the coronavirus pandemic prohibiting large gatherings, the nonprofit had to find another way to hold its biggest fundraiser of the year, deciding to turn it into a virtual “at home” celebration.
On Saturday, thousands tuned into the virtual event, with donations surpassing what Executive Director Denise Redmond had expected.
“The support was overwhelming,” Redmond said. “The money we raised was incredible for doing a virtual event. Our silent auction is still open until Friday, but it looks like when all is said and done, we are going to net $300,000 — I would have thought that impossible. … It was quite unbelievable.”
For a virtual event, Redmond believes it was the first of its caliber in the Santa Clarita Valley. “Being in August, we had a lot of time to watch and figure things out, and it far exceeded our expectations and really overwhelmed us.”
With Heart of the West usually centered around showing guests what the nonprofit is all about by featuring some of Carousel Ranch’s students doing horseback riding demonstrations, the virtual event did just that and more, going into some of the kids’ homes and giving guests a special opportunity to see behind the scenes the impacts the nonprofit has.
Guests met 5-year-old Kieren and his parents Tomm and Brandis Hulett, who welcomed them into their home, showing how Kieren communicates through the use of “yes” and “no” buttons, as he shared his excitement for the horses at Carousel Ranch.
“Carousel Ranch is giving him the ability to have more stamina, to have more stability,” Brandis Hulett said in the video. “The horseback riding has already just given him so much strength to seek his own independence and to do the things he wants.”
Later, guests met 15-year-old Jessica and her parents Jennifer and Randy Trosper. Jessica has been attending Carousel Ranch since she was 4, and though she’s nonverbal, she was able to express her passion for the nonprofit, typing out, “I feel one with the horse,” on her iPad.
“That part of her life, she gets to be completely in control,” Randy Trosper said, as a video played of Jessica riding a horse. “She gets to make choices about things she does, but nothing is quite as significant and instant as telling this huge animal to go a certain direction.”
Ultimately, the two-hour, live-streamed event allowed Carousel Ranch to show viewers how they’ve thought outside the box to continue to connect with students until they were able to begin bringing them back to the ranch.
“It’s different and scary, but it worked,” Redmond said. “It was so real. I think that we were able to transcend being virtual and actually reach in and touch these people in their homes. Something magical happened for us that night.”
Redmond knew of more than 20 home parties throughout the SCV, where families tuned in together to watch, along with viewers tuning in from all across the county, an opportunity many might not have had if the event had gone on as planned.
“There were people who joined us from eight or 10 different states that wouldn’t have been able to participate and did things like sponsor children or sponsor horses, plus all of our usual supporters showed up, some of them donated more than ever,” Redmond said. “At a time where people are struggling and unemployed, everybody did what they could. … We were just shocked in the most amazing way.”
Though they hope they can return to in-person events next year, Redmond said they are certainly going to be integrating some of this virtual aspect into future events.
“I think we would have been afraid to try these things, we wouldn’t have even known to try to
incorporate these things, but now we see that Heart of the West can be so much more,” Redmond added. “I think we will be forever changed by this experience.”
For more information on Carousel Ranch, visit carouselranch.org or call 661-268-8010.