NAPLES, Fla.- The Naples Equestrian Challenge is one of many organizations that benefits from the Naples Winter Wine Festival, coming up this weekend.
People from all over will come to Naples for the world class event, but behind the fancy wines and the million dollar auction items are hundreds of Collier County kids in need.
That's where the Naples Children and Education Foundation steps in.
Through the wine festival and other events, the foundation has provided more than 100 million dollars to programs that help those kids.
One of those programs, is the Naples Equestrian Challenge.
The program has been in the community for 17 years, providing therapeutic riding for kids and adults with special needs.
The program served more than 300 people last year alone and has received more than one million dollars from the Naples Children and Education Foundation.
Executive Director Kim Minarich says, "it's made a huge difference to our program, the size of the program, the services that we've been able to offer and the people that can benefit from our program."
She says the horses provide a type of healing you can't get from people, because the horses mirror emotions. "Our horses are just magical. We're very proud of our horses, we have a heard of 10 horses here at NEC. It helps with their social skills, they learn how to talk to their horse, to communicate with their horse, to go and reach for a ring with a special color and match it to another color."
Four-year-old Zack Anselmi joined the program in July, to help with behavioral issues. His mom Michelle says she is already seeing the results.
"Here he actually pays attention, follows directions and he waits his turn and he leans down and balances on the horse and pets the horse," she says. "He is more able to manage his impulses, not all the time but I think it is a result of the program here. Yea, he's doing better. This is helping him to get it."
She says she is thankful to the staff at Naples Equestrian Challenge, and it feels like family. "They are beautiful people, so loving and so giving and so sweet and kind, this is the best staff. We love it here. We've only been coming since July but it already feels like a second home," she says.
But for the Anselmis, it is a family affair. Zack's dad Reno, a military veteran, is also now a member of the Naples Equestrian Challenge's new Operation Strides program. It works with veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment issues.
Reno says the program is already working. "Instead of just counseling, I can come here and work with horses so it will be better for me to try to work with the horses so I can understand what I'm doing wrong. The horse gives you a type of his language back, so I can learn how to use that in my everyday life with my family or out and about," he says. He enjoys interacting with the horses, and feeding of their energy."I'm kind of nervous around other people so the horses draw that out of you and make you get involved. So when I'm around other people, I remember that and make myself get involved."
His wife couldn't be happier about the family's involvement. "This is really going to help him with the emotive piece, I mean standard counseling is good but this is filling in a big gap that you can't get at from traditional psychotherapy."