Friday night would have been a Texas backyard picnic-style gathering to raise money for Equest's 'Hooves for Heroes' veterans' horse therapy program. Instead, the pandemic forced the 'Boots and Salutes' fundraising campaign online.
"It is definitely an opportunity to get more eyeballs," Equest Veteran Program Manager Joan Cutler said. "Just getting the word out to everyone about what we do and the fact that we're still here and still needing their support, even if things aren't exactly as they used to be."
In the first quarter of 2020, philanthropic donations nationwide dropped by 6%. Without galas and gatherings, nonprofits like Equest have had to rethink their fundraising efforts.
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"We don't realize how we let things bottle-up," Angela Escamilla said. Escamilla is the wife of SSGT Jason Escamilla. The couple and their children are part of the 'Hooves for Heroes' program. "With horses, they pick up on your energy."
The equine therapy is free to returning veterans and their families.
"The horse doesn't lie," Cutler said. "You can tell the whole world that you're OK, and the horse will tell you, no, maybe not."
Escamilla has had five deployments, the longest was almost two years.
"Integrating back into our routine was very challenging. Also, with him dealing with the struggles from PTSD," Escamilla said. "We're sharpening our tools through Equest. They're teaching us the communication, the patience, helping him learn new coping skills, my family is completely indebted to them."
Equest's 'Boots & Salutes' fundraising campaign ends Saturday evening with a Facebook video event at 6:00 p.m.