Taking Back the Community: The healing of an unlikely pair

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – We talk a lot about keeping guns and drugs off of the streets, but what about kids and teens?

There’s a local shelter devoted to doing just that. They say more teens come through their doors during the summer. So this season, they’re taking therapy to the farm.

The Seton Youth Shelters are the only teen-specific shelters in the Hampton Roads area. They offer multiple programs, and through those programs have helped about 14,000 kids and teens in one year.

Inside the wooden stalls, healing happens between an unlikely pair.

“You just see an awakening,” said Alicia Mahar, Circle A Home for Horses Executive Director.  “An abused horse and a child who suffered a trauma, they rehabilitate each other.”

Circle A is where teens and horses learn to trust, communicate and love.

“Once they touch it and that horse looks in their eyes, it’s an instant bond,” said Mahar.

The teens are from Seton Youth Shelters, which houses roughly 200 teens over the course of each year. Some of those are runaways, others are victims of trafficking.

“It is a big problem,” said Seton Youth Shelters Executive Director Jennifer Sieracki.

Sieracki says it’s a problem that grows during the summer months. That’s why she says people need to be aware of what’s going on.

“We must be here for these children who otherwise would be on the streets, at risk,” she said.

This summer, Sieracki and her team joined Circle A and started bringing teens to the horse rescue farm.

“To see them intensely paying attention to every single thing that’s being taught to them about these horses is pretty amazing,” said Brandy Jackson, one of Seton’s volunteers.

Jackson is from Massachusetts, so horses are new to her, but her connection to Seton started about 20 years ago.

“I was about 15 at the time, though what is now the boy’s house is now the girl’s house and the only house,” said Jackson.

Fights with her family led her to Seton’s doors for a brief stay. Her time there changed her, knowing even then that she would one day go back.

“I explained to that woman that before I left, this is what I would do,” Jackson said.

Now, as she watches the teens change in just minutes of arriving on the farm, she’s reminded of her own journey.

“I think it makes me better at my job, to be able to relate,” said Jackson.

Some of the challenges they’re going through, she also went through.

The transformation is clear in the faces of the teens.

“Some kids can’t look my in the eye and talk to me, but they will a horse,” said Mahar.  “They don’t want to share their feelings with adults because they don’t trust us anymore, but they will with a horse.”

Sometimes that bond can be enough to change one teen’s future.

In 2016, Seton Youth Shelters lost $300,000 in federal funding. So, they’re looking for donations and volunteers. You can find out more about Seton Youth Shelters and Circle A Home for Horses on their websites.