When Jeannie Fee took on the leadership role of teacher for middle school students who were in the confirmation class at Bethia United Methodist... Mission Possible: Local church builds riding arena and run-in shed for horses
From left, Addy Stachura and Victoria Bryant and horses Puzzle, Sue and Nike stand in front of a run-in shed that was built for the horses recently. (Diane Merryman photo)

When Jeannie Fee took on the leadership role of teacher for middle school students who were in the confirmation class at Bethia United Methodist Church, she was stumped when it came to choosing a community mission project for them.

Little did she realize that the project would bring her so close to home, right next door to where she lives. Fee loves horses and lives on a few acres in Chesterfield with three horses in her backyard. Her next-door neighbor leases her barn and pastures to Journey of Hope for Autism, a nonprofit that uses horses to assist in the emotional and social development of children and adults with autism and other developmental challenges.

Fee and Journey of Hope President Victoria Bryant recently became friends, and Fee learned that Journey of Hope needed a suitable riding arena for conducting lessons. It was just the type of project she was looking for.

Bethia UMC donated the money to purchase materials, and Fee and her husband, Mark, supervised the project, a 60-by-120-foot riding arena.

“It really brought the youth group together,” Fee said. “They worked side by side, talked, laughed and got to know each other better while learning the value of service.”

Bryant was equally impressed and delighted with the project, which was finished in May of last year. “It was so heart warming to see how well they worked together on the project, and the new arena has made our program safer for both horses and riders,” she said. “It was an answer to our prayers.”

The generosity of Bethia UMC didn’t stop there. With the success of the youth project, the adults looked again at Journey of Hope for this church’s Mission Possible community service project. Journey of Hope had recently rescued three neglected horses from a farm in Fredericksburg, but the nonprofit didn’t have the proper shelter arrangements to protect the horses from inclement weather. Once again, the church stepped in to help.

“My heart went out to the horses,” Fee said. “They were in such poor condition.”

Bryant had set out to buy one horse to use in the riding program, but felt so sorry for the other two that she just couldn’t leave them behind. Fee knew Bryant had done the right thing by rescuing them and understood the dilemma she was in. “I feel like God had put me there at the right time to see the horses and realize the need,” Fee said.

When she presented the project to her church, it didn’t take much convincing to get them on board. The project was adopted and completed last week.

“So many people came together to work on this project, and it was so rewarding for them all,” Fee said. “We took on a project that might have seemed impossible and made it possible. Our Mission Possible community service project was a great success.”

The estimated in-kind value for both projects is nearly $10,000 (materials and labor).

It took four weekends to build the run-in shelter for the horses. Journey of Hope didn’t have the money to do the projects, so the gift was much appreciated.

“I still can’t believe what a blessing this was,” Bryant said. “The fact that they saw our need and volunteered on their own, without me asking, still amazes me.”

Bryant calls the project a miracle, and the horses are thriving in their new home.

For more information about Journey of Hope for Autism and their riding program, summer camps, upcoming events, and service projects, call (804) 833-8550 or go to at joh4autism/org.