GREENFIELD — The way Thomas Flanagan sees it, Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center is in the business of changing lives.
Whether it’s a child with a disability benefiting from the rhythmic steps of a steed, a veteran looking to horseback riding as a way to heal from the physical and emotional injuries of war or a volunteer searching for a chance to help others, Edelweiss sparks transformations, he said.
Those directly involved with the organization have always known this, Flanagan said. Now, it’s his job to make sure the rest of county, businesses and residents alike, realize the same thing.
Flanagan, a lifelong Hancock County resident, took over as executive director of the organization in January. While he’s still getting settled into the new position, Flanagan said he’s eager to get started and to see what his new team can accomplish once programs kick off again in April.
“I think this is a place that makes life better for all those involved,” Flanagan said. “I’ve always had a passion for (working with) children, and I’ve always loved horses. This was a way to marry the two.”
Working with children with disabilities was not a distant notion to Flanagan, a former band director for the Eastern Hancock school district.
But it was the financial experience Flanagan gained after leaving teaching to join the business world that made him stand out among other candidates for the job, said Jim Matthews, president of the Edelweiss Board of Directors.
“He has some great ideas about how we can do better fundraising,” Matthews said. “That was one of things we were most interested in.”
Fundraisers, donations and sponsorships account for the majority of Edelweiss’s budget. Raising horses is pricey, and while participants are charged a small fee per class, it’s nowhere near what the programs actually cost to hold.
Early this month, Edelweiss had its annual Denim & Diamonds event and met the goal of raising $35,000, said Carla Nelson, an Edelweiss volunteer who helped plan the fundraiser.
“We keep (increasing) our goal every year. And every year, we manage to meet it,” Nelson said, adding that Denim & Diamonds is the organization’s largest benefit each year.
While Flanagan appreciates the community’s continued generosity, bringing in even more funding is a goal he hopes to achieve early in his tenure.
With more funding and more volunteers, the barn can introduce more forms of therapy and in turn help more people.
Currently, Edelweiss serves roughly 50 children from at least five counties in the area. Flanagan said the organization’s capacity is 75 children, and he wants to see the three class sessions offered on Monday through Thursday nights filled. He also hopes to add a Saturday class.
Their roster of volunteers carried 140 names in 2014, but Flanagan said Edelweiss needs between 150 and 200 volunteers to operate at full capacity.
Until riding programs begin in the spring, Flanagan is spending time meeting staffers and getting to know volunteers.
There’s a lot to learn, but Flanagan is energized about what lies ahead.
“Taking over at a nonprofit is like drinking out of a fully charged fire hose,” he said with a laugh. “But we’re getting the pressure down to where I can handle it.”