As 2016 comes to a close, we are beginning to look ahead to the next chapters of our story. Our 30th anniversary year has been filled with so many wonderful memories and celebrations. Our founder, Cheryl Miller, reflected on the past three decades and wrote this letter for our time capsule. As we wrap up 3 decades of horse-assisted services we know one thing for sure – that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The difficult, the happy, the sad – All things have worked out for Agape and will continue to as this is the purpose God has called us to.
ALL THINGS……Romans 8:28
Many years have passed and yet that day in 1992 is indelibly written on my heart and mind. But, let’s go back to 1986 first.
Our son, Scott, was married. Our daughter, Dawn, had just graduated from high school and was preparing for college. My daughter and I, had always shared a love for and an enjoyment of horses and riding. My husband and son liked the equine population, but not with the enthusiasm that Dawn and I did. Dawn and I had experienced an amazing awareness of the benefits that riding horses brings about in individuals who are experiencing challenges in their lives. Because of this, we had been volunteering in a one night a week program that provided horseback riding lessons for individuals with disabilities. We saw amazing results and knew that someday we wanted to create a program that would provide this service six days a week all year long, not just occasionally.
Amazingly, that spring before Dawn left for college, we had the opportunity to purchase four horses and specialized equipment from the program we had volunteered in. These horses were already trained for therapeutic riding, but what were we to do now?
The telephone rang. It was a call from Indiana University, my alma mater. The gentleman said that he understood that I had horses and that I was trained to provide therapeutic riding. He asked if I would bring my horses to the Bradford Woods camp during the upcoming summer to provide a horseback riding opportunity for children with disabilities. We accepted and this was the beginning of fulfilling our vision.
We named our program Agape, which means unconditional love. We acquired our non-profit classification and provided therapeutic riding every summer for more than 450 campers from 1986 forward.
Parents of campers contacted me at the end of each summer asking me to provide this service year-round. That was our dream, but would it become a reality? It seemed a little scary. I would need to leave my job as a teacher and maybe even move. What about the cost? What about my husband? What if it failed? What then? Dawn and I continued to dream and plan for this, but fear kept us from moving forward with it.
Dawn graduated from college, married, and had a baby, yet we continued to provide the summer riding program for children with disabilities. Our dream was still alive. Our passion was fervent. The benefits to the summer campers were real.
Then, February 28, 1992, a tragedy hit our lives. Dawn was murdered, I was left in critical condition near death, and Dawn’s estranged husband committed suicide. It seemed surreal. This is only something you see on TV or in the movies. How could this be happening? Dawn’s baby boy was just two weeks away from his first birthday, but now he was an orphan.
As my husband and I prayed, we asked God what we should do. Our prayer was answered. First, we knew that we were to adopt our baby grandson. Second, we knew that we were to move ahead with our dream of a year-round therapeutic riding program.
In the fall of 1992, we bought approximately 20 acres with pasture, woods and a creek. We built the indoor riding arena and opened the doors for service in February of 1994. We also continued to provide the riding program for the summer camp at Bradford Woods.
It’s been 30 years since we began, that first summer of 1986, maybe many more by the time this is read. Those early years, which began in tragedy, have been transformed into triumph through God’s amazing grace. Agape serves approximately 1,700 individuals a year in two year-round locations, Agape North at Cicero, IN and Agape South at Bradford Woods Camp in Martinsville, IN. Agape not only serves children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities, but also those with addictions, those who have been abused, adopted, and the elderly. We often say that “Miracles Happen Daily” at Agape and it is so true. One of the greatest miracles is the many caring, wise, and compassionate people God has brought throughout these thirty years. The staff, the board, the donors, and the volunteers are the backbone of Agape and Jesus Christ is the head.
Yes truly, ALL things, even the worst things, when placed in God’s hands, can be transformed in a miraculous way to something wonderful, so TRUST HIM. Our God is faithful.
Grateful for the first 30 and grateful for the next,
Cheryl Miller, Founder of Agape
P.S. We ask that you consider making a gift to Agape this year in honor of Cheryl and the Miller family for 3 decades of perseverance, grit, faith and hope. Thank you.