Do Good: Happy Trails! Baudville designs, constructs riding trail for Equest Center

When local company Baudville celebrated its 30th anniversary recently, its employees eschewed cake and ice cream to celebrate instead by building a unique one-mile therapeutic riding trail to benefit Equest Center. Victoria Mullen reports on the happy trails that led to the project's completion.
Peruse Baudville's website until the cows come home, but you won't find this recognition "product" listed anywhere. It isn't for sale.

Baudville, the self-described recognition company, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, not with cake, or trophies, or mugs, but with something far grander and "do-gooder." Its employees designed and constructed the Saddle Safari Discovery Trail, a one-mile sensory path at Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding, an organization that helps individuals with special needs. The over-34-acre horse farm, located at 3777 Rector Ave. NE in Rockford, is a partner of Baudville's charitable arm, Baudville's Helping Hand.

Planning for the trail began a year ago. Equest had some property it didn't know what to with, and most therapeutic riding took place in a barn. "We wanted to help them expand that," says Brad Darooge, Baudville's president and CEO.

Baudville's Helping Hand worked closely with several organizations to design the trail. Most of Baudville's 100 employees headed up to the equine center eight to 10 at a time each day over the summer to work on the project. "There was no template for this," Darooge says. The dirty work began in April as employees defined the path, and the trail was unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 16.

Now ready for prime time, Saddle Safari Discovery Trail winds through woods and over Stedman Creek. Along the way are different stops -- such as Memory Tree, Marimba Beats, Bird's Eye View -- that inspire people with special needs to interact with the environment. It's an imaginative and fun way to develop engagement, communication, and creativity skills, and to nurture riders' social, emotional, motor, and cognitive functions in natural surroundings. The experience is rich with sights, smells, sounds, and tactile sensations; the trail is believed to be one of only two in Michigan, and among only a handful throughout the country.

The trail will continue to evolve over time, and Darooge says his company will complete a new trail in the spring.

"Equest is a fantastic center," Darooge says. "We love kids and horses, and it's a great give-back with excellent benefits for special needs individuals and volunteers alike. We'd like other organizations to know that you don't have to commit a huge amount of time to make a difference. You don't have to be large company to have a big impact. We started as a company of two. We do small projects every year, and every five years, we take on a big project to commemorate anniversaries. This is the biggest project so far, dollar- and volunteer-wise, and also the most fulfilling."

Every good charitable foundation has a mission, and the owners of Baudville decided early on to focus on children's foundations. "It provides a preliminary filter through which to put all the requests we get, and it is aligned with owners' vision," Darooge says. "We had to narrow our focus and chose children's organizations. It just felt right -- not just writing a check, but getting employees involved."

Volunteering is just one part of Baudville's overall business strategy, and Baudville's Helping Hand focuses its efforts in the areas where its employees, customers, and vendors live and work. "We've chosen to partner closely with charitable organizations in our home base of Grand Rapids, Michigan," says Darooge. "We like to donate locally to the community that has encouraged our company's creation and growth."

Located at 5380 52nd St. SE in Grand Rapids, Baudville has a high worker retention rate, and projects like this are part of a broader cultural dynamic created by the employees. "The experience helped our employees connect with each other and with the company," says Darooge. "This type of experience helps recruit new people, but that's not why we do these things. We do it because we believe in giving back, in doing good. It just happens to align with our vision."

Darooge says that giving back contributes to a warming employment environment, and that sets Baudville apart from other businesses. "It's good for business, good for our employees, and ultimately, good for our customers."

Founded in 1990, Equest serves 120 to 160 special needs individuals weekly, year-round. Individuals range in age from 2 to 94, and reside in Allegan, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, and Ottawa counties. Most clients have both primary and secondary disabilities, such as ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum, arthritis, cancer, cerebral palsy, as well as other disorders. The organization's mission is to improve the quality of life through equine-based therapy to physically, mentally, and socially/emotionally challenged individuals. Equest's program integrates academic, social, and physical skills, using the horse as a catalyst. Volunteers contributed 34,200 hours of time in 2012.

Get involved:

Donate to Equest center for Therapeutic Riding.
Keep up to date with events on Equest's Facebook page.
Here's their Twitter page.
Oh, and LinkedIn, too.
Learn more about Baudville's Helping Hand.

Victoria Mullen is the Do Good editor for Rapid Growth Media.

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