GREENFIELD — After relaxing on the back of a horse named Jasper, Marmalade the cat dodged and weaved between the feet of visitors gathered for a ribbon cutting at the Agape East facility in Greenfield this week.

More than 50 guests gathered on Tuesday to celebrate a new milestone for Agape, a horse therapy program which serves children and adults with special needs, as well as those struggling with addiction, trauma and other challenges.

After leasing the horse barn and pasture at 531 W. 100 South for the past five years, the nonprofit officially purchased the property for $120,000 last week thanks to a federal grant through the American Rescue Plan Act.

It was purchased from the Community Foundation of Hancock County, which has owned and managed the property since it and the surrounding farmland was donated by the late Lewis F. Strahl in 2009.

“We have enjoyed a gracious, generous partnership with the community foundation that enabled us to lease this facility for the past five years, and we couldn’t be more excited to now be making this 22-acre property our permanent home here in Greenfield,” said Agape’s executive director, Stephanie Amick, as she addressed the crowd Tuesday.

Agape got its start in Cicero in 1986 and expanded to Greenfield as Agape East in 2017.

“Agape’s mission is to cultivate personal growth through the mind, body and spirit through these wonderful equine-assisted services,” said Amick, as Jasper stood patiently behind her.

“We have quite a strategic plan ahead of us that will involve continued growth at this location, making it more ADA-accessible, so we can continually impact the number of people served throughout central Indiana,” she said.

Site manager Jennifer Wright told the crowd that working at Greenfield’s Agape facility is a dream come true.

“How many people can say when they pull into work they get an overwhelming sense of peace, tranquility and unbridled hope? I make a point every morning when I pull through those red gates to stop and look at what we have here and to think about how lucky we are. I’m proud of all our people who have worked really hard at getting us to where we are today,” she said.

“I’m proud of our future and all the plans we have, and all the dreams we have headed our way. I’m so proud of our riders, our riders’ families, our partners and especially our volunteers and staff, without whom there would be no Agape East.”

Volunteer Hannah Riffle spoke of how she first joined the program to heal a broken heart after her horse Emma passed away three years ago.

“I grew up riding horses and was looking for a way to be around horses again, but it turned into so much more than that,” she said.

She shared a few of the great things she’s witnessed through the program, like a young autistic boy who was prone to screaming and crying fits but would calm down whenever his horse started trotting.

“He’d just break into a big smile and laughter, which came from the joy of being in partnership with the horse,” said Ripple. “That’s the power of Agape. I came for the horses but I stayed for the love and the magic that is created here.”

Seventeen-year-old Molly Hess, with some help from Wright, told the crowd about the difference Agape had made in her life.

“Agape is my favorite place. I started coming here about seven or eight years ago and have ridden different horses, but Lexi is my favorite,” she shared, in prepared comments spoken by Wright.

“Agape is where I am comfortable and happy. I have gained confidence in myself and learned to ask for what I need. … When I first started, I needed two side-walkers and a lot of help. Now I can ride solo with minimal help if needed. I have learned social skills and a lot about horses and myself along my journey.”

Angela McGinnis then shared what the Agape program has meant to her son, Tim, who first started Agape horse therapy in Cicero 20 years ago.

“Agape was the first site that I looked at for Tim to start riding horses. Back then my son’s future wasn’t looking really bright. There was really no program in Indiana that was able to work with all of his needs all those years ago,” said McGinnis as her son stood by her side.

She and Tim have come to think of the Agape staff and volunteers as a second family, she said, and have celebrated weddings, births and promotions along the way, along with the passing of horses over the years.

“I know of no other place that has given us so much love,” said McGinnis. “Agape’s impact has touched our lives emotionally, mentally and physically. We have built bonds that will last forever.”

Amick thanked the Community Foundation of Hancock County staff for the role they’ve played in supporting the Agape East program, by leasing the property to them over the years and making the purchase possible.

“Your guys are amazing. The things you do for this community and the way you support these nonprofits is like no other community foundation in the state, and I can guarantee that,” said Amick, who concluded by praising Agape’s team of employees, board members and volunteers.

“You guys really are the heart of what we do here and make everything possible,” she said, summoning the group to gather together to cut a large red ribbon strung across the barn doors.

Lasting legacy

The community foundation’s president, Mary Gibble, said it was richly rewarding to see the nonprofit’s goal of one day owning the Greenfield facility come to fruition.

“The community foundation has been really blessed to be steward of a gift from a gentleman named Lewis F. Strahl. It has been especially meaningful that we were able to provide Edelweiss, which was a Hancock County-founded therapy horse riding organization, a home, at the barn and pasture that was part of the land he donated,” she said.

“Eventually Agape acquired Edelweiss and has since really embraced expanding their services to central and eastern Indiana. Both organizations have been able to expand the impact of the philanthropic gift Lewis made by doing such incredible work. It’s pretty humbling to have been a part of, and we’ve been honored to do it,” she said.

Strahl arranged to donate his land to the community foundation upon his death, which occurred in 2009.

For years, the foundation leased out about 130 acres of that land to generate rental income which was used to establish two endowments in his name — one that awards educational support to New Palestine High School graduates, and one that funds capital projects for New Palestine United Methodist Church.

“We eventually sold that property and the proceeds went to those endowments to grow them even further,” said Gibble, who said each endowment now totals $850,000, and will continue to generate income year after year.

The endowments will grow even more thanks to the sale of the Agape East property, which the nonprofit leased the from the foundation for the past five years until an ARPA grant enabled them to buy it for $120,000.

“The community foundation will invest those funds into the two endowment funds and grow them even more, so that they will continue to provide an even greater impact in the community in the ways Lewis intended,”

said Gibble, who praised the Edelweiss and Agape organizations for all the hard work they did in updating the facility over the past five years.

“There’s been a lot of elbow grease that has contributed to the beautification of that property and additional grant makers who have made it possible,” she said.

Agape’s board chair, Michelle Baker, thanked a number of local organizations which helped fund more than $200,000 in capital improvements over the past five years, including the community foundation, Hancock Health, NineStar Connect, the White Family Foundation and Lilly Endowment.

“Without the generous support of the community, our incredible staff, volunteers and amazing horses, riders and parents, there’s no way that this day would have happened,” she said as the sun broke through the clouds over the barn.