ST. ANNE, Ill. — The idea started 10 years ago after Jeff Montalta saw the movie “Pay It Forward.” That’s when he knew he wanted to do something to give back to his community.
And for Montalta, it begins at home.
His home is a fifth generation farm that he and his wife Samantha are using to host a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder program for military veterans called “Heroes and Hooves.”
“We have 20 acres and we’re gonna use it to the max,” said Jeff Montalta proudly as he sat inside the home in St. Anne.
While not a veteran himself, Montalta does have military connections. Both his stepfather and father-in-law are veterans. And, Jeff and Samantha know people who have died in the line of duty and they also work with a veterans group at Kankakee Community College.
The Montaltas have dreams of rebuilding not only the farm, but taking the rescue animals and veterans through a peaceful rehabilitation process.
With animals including chickens, ducks, goats, hogs, horses and two ponies named Barney and Stuart, there’s plenty of therapy options for those participating in the program.
Heroes and Hooves will take place over 5-day increments. On day one of starting the program, veterans will come to the farm for a 1-2 hour tour to get to know the land and the horses.
Over the next few days, they’ll learn how to care for the horses. They will groom them, saddle them and eventually learn to ride them. The next week will involve leaving the farm and going on trail rides with the horses.
Along with caring for the horses, veterans can take part in helping with farm chores like driving a tractor or feeding the animals.
“We’re very flexible right now. Even if you have a full-time job but you still want to join the program, you can come by for a couple hours in the evening,” said Jeff.
He hopes to start his program in about a month.
“It’ll start out small, helping 2-3 veterans at a time and we’ll see where it goes from there. One of the main treatments of PTSD from what we’ve read, is refocusing your energy. This will be a place where vets can come and refocus.”
The program will also provide a chance for the horses to be looked after and cared for. Jeff added, “I’m hopeful that some of the rescue horses who have the right disposition will be able to go back and become therapy horses.”
The horses will act as a starting point to everything else the farm will one day have to offer. The Montaltas envision having the families of the veterans come and participate one day a week with pony rides for the children, ice cream making and a pumpkin giveaway giving in the fall.
They’d also like to open a general store, build a brand new barn, add a commercial kitchen, a riding arena and living quarters.
With this program, Jeff hopes veterans will gain peace of mind.
If anyone is interested in donating or joining Heroes and Hooves, they can contact Jeff Montalta by visiting their Facebook page, facebook.com/heroesandhooves.
“If we don’t know how to do something, we’ll bring someone in who does and who can teach us. Whatever it takes,” said Jeff.
“Hopefully we’ll change a lot of lives.”
Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, http://bit.ly/2vwoEfYv
Information from: The Daily Journal, http://www.daily-journal.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Kankakee) Daily Journal.