This month’s BOOM! profile is Susie Wilson. She is one of the leaders at the non-profit organization called MANE, where horses provide therapy for children and adults who have physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities. The River Region is blessed to have someone like Susie leading this effort. She is both determined and enthusiastic in serving children and adults with limiting disabilities. Her philanthropic effort had an excellent role model in her late father-in-law, Jim Wilson Jr. Mr. Wilson not only left a positive legacy through his commercial success he also provided leadership in service to our community. Susie and her family reflect his philosophy of giving back to your community and we can all share in the benefits to the River Region’s quality of life. We know you’ll enjoy getting to know Susie, we certainly did.
BOOM!: Please give us a brief biography, i.e. where you’re from, education, what brought you to the Montgomery area, did you raise your family here, schools, married, family, etc?
Susie: I was born in Westchester, New York; moved to Lincolnton, North Carolina at age 11, owned and showed American Quarter Horses, graduated from The University of Virginia, and met my husband Jim Wilson III while working in marketing/advertising in New York City. We were married in Rye, NY. Jim worked in the real estate finance division of a large bank in NYC, before he moved back to Montgomery to work for his father, the legendary developer and philanthropist Jim Wilson, Jr. Both of our daughters were born and raised in Montgomery and received an excellent education from The Montgomery Academy. Lillian graduated from Dartmouth College and is an information specialist with FOXNews in NYC. Occasionally, we get to see and hear Lillian live on Shepard Smith Reporting and on the @ShepNewsTeam Instagram posts. Wesley, an avid horseback rider, graduated from The University of Virginia and is a financial analyst with Stephens, Inc. in Little Rock, AR.
I currently serve on the Board of Directors of MANE (Montgomery Area Non-traditional Equestrians) which provides safe and affective equine-assisted therapy for River Region children and adults who have physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities. I also serve on the Advisory Board of the Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), based in New York and San Francisco. DRA has inspired cultural considerations and cost-effective municipal adjustments which have had a tremendous impact on the lives of those who have disabilities and their families across our nation.
BOOM!: Many people over 50 are experiencing a renewed sense of purpose, new goals, new careers, etc. How would you describe this sense of renewal in your life? Any advice for the rest of us seeking renewal?
Susie: Thankfully, each phase of my life has presented new challenges and new circumstances, including new opportunities to make a difference in some way!
My husband Jim remains my priority, calling, and most amusing, fastest moving challenge!! My authority as a mother has practically disappeared, but my influence as Lillian and Wesley’s advisor has increased. MANE has been my philanthropic focus for the past 16 years, and there is always a new project or event on the radar with this organization. I plan to be involved with MANE as long as my gifts, time and energy are needed.
I have found that God takes our acts of service and miraculously turns them into our own comfort and satisfaction!! My recommendation to all BOOM! readers looking for more comfort and satisfaction is to come join me at MANE, where horses change lives! Everyone who participates in the program benefits in some way – even the volunteers. My 82 year-young Mom is a MANE volunteer on a weekly basis. Although she is nervous around horses, Mom is an inspiration to other volunteers and a tremendous help in MANE’s office. We need gardeners, photographers, party-planners, grant writers, and fund-raisers, as well as those who will work with horses and assist with riders during therapy sessions. Since it often requires 3 volunteers for each client to ride, volunteers are MANE’s biggest, best asset, and we always need more! MANE can boast about thousands of personal victories, some incremental and some absolutely earth shattering.
BOOM!: The people of the River Region have always had a “giving heart” when it comes to supporting our non-profit organizations. Why do you think that’s true?
Susie: Montgomery has been blessed with outstanding citizens such as my late father-in-law Jim Wilson Jr., who was brilliant, generous and creative, and led others by his dynamic, altruistic example. He developed shopping centers such as EastChase, office buildings throughout our city, and residential properties such as Wynlakes, which enhanced lifestyles and brought new businesses to our area. He supported sports, education, and arts organizations as well as hospitals throughout the Southeast. Most importantly, Jim, Jr. motivated others to give financially, and to work tirelessly, to make the River Region an even better place to live and grow.
My Jim and his brother Will continue to honor their father’s legacy and support many important arts and humanitarian organizations. For example, the New Park residential development surrounds The Jim Wilson, Jr. Elementary School and The Jim Wilson, Jr. YMCA.
BOOM!: What are you most passionate about?
Susie: I am devoted to Jesus Christ; my wonderful husband, through whom God has chosen to bless me unceasingly; my girls; my family; and helping those who have disabilities, to function in more normal, self-reliant and meaningful ways.
I have had a life-long passion for horses, one of God’s most amazing creations. My own horses have been beautiful, courageous, loyal friends and teammates. I agree with American cowboy superstar Pat Parelli, who says that the relationship between horse and rider exemplifies “success without force, partnership without dominance, teamwork without fear, willingness without intimidation, and harmony without coercion.”
BOOM!: How do you like to relax and wind down?
Susie: To stay relaxed, yet ready, I try to study the Bible each morning with help from authors John MacArthur, Tim Keller, or Mathew Henry.
At the end of the day or when traveling, I read historical fiction or thrillers. My favorite author is my cousin Dave Hosp, who has published 7 gripping novels thus far. His colorful, quick-witted characters make me laugh out loud or cringe in terror. Besides Dave, my other favorite authors are Colleen McCullough, Margaret George, and Edward Rutherford. If I am too tired to read, I watch Netflix or downloaded TV shows on my iPad!
BOOM!: Many of us in the Boomer age look forward to the time when the kids are finally out of the house, on their own, or off to college, so we can experience that “empty nest” syndrome. What kind of experience has that been for you?
Susie: We never looked forward to our daughters “growing out” of the house. Jim and I faced the inevitable by appreciating the freedom the two of us had to spend more time together.
I experienced a fairly seamless transition into the empty-nest phase. New technology – cell phones, texts, and emails – has made staying in touch so easy. I was very fortunate to be able to visit both daughters regularly during their college careers. Lillian was often on stage in Dartmouth Theater productions. I only missed one of her plays– but I caught the rehearsal, just prior to opening night! I cherished the time I spent with Wesley at my alma mater and watching her compete in horse shows in the Mid-Atlantic States.
Now both girls have demanding careers with even less time for parents. Gladly, Jim and I were able to ease into this phase slowly.
BOOM!: What is it about living in the Montgomery/River Region area that you like?
Susie: I am very thankful for the privilege of living in a community where Judeo-Christian values are taught, esteemed and encouraged. I came to know Christ, because I was surrounded by people who patiently fed me The Word. God gave me not one, but two, ladies just to teach me how to read and study the Scripture. Pat Cooper and Olivia Williams spent an hour a week with me for almost a year. A few years and Bible studies later, God blessed me with Lain Hodges, who became my “Titus II” lady. Another invaluable resource that Montgomery has to offer for Christian growth is Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).
Montgomery is a wonderful place to call home. We have lots of caring people, good shopping, fine restaurants, special events, beautiful weather, sports and all the arts/entertainment one can fit on a calendar!
BOOM!: As you’ve aged, how have your ambitions changed?
Susie: My new ambition is staying healthy! More travel and less routine make finding time to work out daunting. My new goal is to exercise regularly for better memory and fewer aches and pains.
I have another ambition that I am in the process of defining. It involves my interest in DRA. Among other provisions, DRA has been the impetus for the existence of closed-captioned news and entertainment; wheelchair- accessible taxis, subways, and voting polls in NYC; educational strategies to teach those who learn differently; and dialogues concerning effective emergency evacuation plans in large cities. I believe that investing in provisions for safety as well as accessibility of normally occurring daily activities for those who have challenges, will increase the productivity and profitability of our country’s human resources.
BOOM!: Give us three words that describe you?
Susie: Grateful, Joyous, Determined
BOOM!: Do you have any hobbies or activities that grab your attention?
Susie: In addition to my family, philanthropic, and equine interests, I enjoy tennis, shooting, skiing, and Alabama football.
BOOM!: We know you’re very involved with M.A.N.E., please explain what the organization does and the value it provides to our community? What’s your role there and why do you serve?
Susie: MANE offers a unique therapeutic interventional strategy that is literally irreplaceable. No other piece of therapeutic equipment has as broad a range of applicability for so many individuals. The horse’s movement and the warmth of the animal’s body provide a foundation for physical benefits for individuals who have muscle and movement disorders. When a rider straddles the back of a horse, the warmth of the animal’s body, combined with the three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse, helps to normalize muscle tone in the rider’s hips and legs. As the muscle tone becomes more normalized, the balanced reciprocal movement of the horse can provide a format for more normal responses from the rider. These responses, in turn, help to normalize muscle tone in the upper part of the body. Instructors use therapeutic horseback riding activities to take advantage of this more normalized tone to facilitate the development of more normal movements of the rider. The benefits the rider gains from the experience go beyond normal muscle tone and improved movement, however. Therapeutic horseback riding also helps improve balance, range of motion, and muscle control, as well as develop more efficient motor planning while strengthening muscles, joints, and tendons. The activities involved in therapeutic horseback riding have also been known to improve respiration, circulation, appetite and digestion.
Benefits intrinsic to therapeutic horseback riding have also been noted for individuals who have visual or hearing impairments, learning disabilities, autism, or mental retardation. Mentally or emotionally challenged riders experience improved concentration, patience, self-discipline, motivation and interpersonal skills. These improvements provide a stronger foundation upon which traditional therapies can be more effectively implemented. The responses that a rider can elicit from a horse add some measure of personal control to the life of a person who is not able to participate in various normally occurring daily activities, increasing self-esteem and self-confidence.
My role on the Board of MANE is the “beggar”! I am not the only one asking our generous community to make donations of time and/or money and/or in-kind services to MANE, but I probably ask more frequently than anyone else! I bring potential volunteers, donors, sponsors, riders, parents, and members of the media to MANE’s facility to see firsthand how horses change lives. If they can’t come out to MANE, I go see them! I also have a role as vigilant watchdog to make sure that every dollar is spent most efficiently and only as necessary.
MANE most closely embodies Jim’s and my personal philanthropic philosophy and represents everything that an outstanding non-profit organization should encompass – a “work smart” structure with very low administrative overhead, wonderful base of community and volunteer support, and a very high effectiveness index carefully documented with a variety of outcome measures. Indicators of the success of therapeutic riding come from rider and parent self-report of increased balance, coordination, muscle control, cognition, memory, motor skills, self-esteem and much more. When riders achieve greater mental and physical abilities and gain more control over their own lives, their care givers’ and family members’ daily activities become easier and they benefit emotionally as well as the riders. So, in my way of thinking, the impact MANE has on our community increases exponentially! Then, add to that sum the fact that every volunteer develops new skills; makes lasting friendships; and experiences some measure of personal growth, enrichment and satisfaction. In short, MANE embodies and reflects the very best of our Montgomery community. I am honored to be a part of the MANE program.
If you have any questions for Susie, give her a call at MANE, 334.213.0909 or email HorsesAndHope@gmail.com. To learn more about MANE visit Maneweb.org. As always, thanks to Kim Bethea from The Studio @ Eastchase for her professional cover photos. If you have questions, comments or suggestions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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