Paul Travers, former Media Director of the Eden Project, is travelling the UK to discover some of our lesser known charities who are serving young people in the most wonderful ways. Meet JAC…
Recently, I was lucky enough to visit somewhere just around the corner! Just Around the Corner (JAC), is a Christian charity based in the beautiful Berkshire countryside (15 acres of it to be precise). I arrived at 8am, just in time to find co-founder Sam Milligan and his team of 10 preparing new challenges for the day’s young visitors.
JAC provides a unique and very special environment where children and young people come to grow; in confidence, self-worth and moreover, in the knowledge that God really does love them and has fruitful plans for their future.
Although JAC is a Christian charity, it positively welcomes everyone – from any faith or no faith. Most of JAC’s children have had painfully challenging starts to their lives; some physical, many psychological and almost all, emotional. It is here, through the skill, dedication and abundant love of JAC’s team that, each and every person is encouraged and taught how to make positive choices for their future.
This year is JAC’s 21st anniversary. Sam, his daughter (and stable manager) Naomi and I found a quiet corner to talk and reflect on the story thus far. I started by asking Sam the inevitable ‘how did it all start?’ In his lilting Irish accent, he recalled “C.S. Lewis once wrote ‘You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending’, well that pretty much sums up what we hope to instil in each amazing child we are lucky enough to see here. It’s fair to say our beginning was fairly humble, a few enthusiastic Christians in a little red van, touring the local parks and places where youths would gather, normally because they had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. For many of them, home was sadly the last place they wanted to be. To be honest, it wasn’t long before we realised we were becoming more than just friends who came to talk to them about Christ and the promise of a brighter future, we were almost becoming ‘therapists’ or ‘counsellors’.”
Naomi adds “I suppose it was through my deep love and knowledge of horses, that it seemed quite logical to combine the evolving ‘therapy’ work with an understanding of the unique power of a horse’s mind. At JAC, our therapy and learning work with the children is based on the EAGALA model, an experiential (learning by doing) style of therapy that is now practised worldwide. We call it Equine Assisted Learning and, in essence, it involves an equine expert and a ‘therapist’ setting tasks for the child, encouraging close interaction between the child and horse. The body language and ‘mind behaviour’ of the Horse is interpreted by the two adult practitioners and equally, the behaviours displayed by the child help inform further exercises. Over a period of time we see the child learning to trust, understand non-verbal language, and generally gaining a real feeling of improved self-worth and confidence. Horses are big but incredibly perceptive and sensitive animals and provide mind and body language of immense value through their behaviour towards the children they work with”.
I must confess, despite Naomi’s compelling, if rather technical, explanation; I remained sceptical that one horse and two humans could perform such wondrous changes in a disturbed young person. There was obviously only one thing to do – see for myself.
Humble pie well and truly eaten, I saw for myself in 45 minutes, changes in a child that I don’t think I have ever witnessed before. The stroppy, angry child who followed the horse into the arena, came out positively beaming, skipping, patting the horse and telling her she was his best friend in the world. It is clear from past results and hundreds of testimonies from parents, carers, teachers and numerous welfare professionals that JAC’s work is a far cry from horseplay; JAC’s work is powerful, profound and life-lasting.
JAC currently work with young people from over 60 schools in and around Berkshire and typically charge £30 for a one hour one to one session, I asked Sam how they arrived at that sum. “Well, to be honest, think about it – one horse, two skilled humans and the upkeep of a 15 acre site… In truth the cost is far greater, but sadly the local education budgets don’t stretch as far as the truth! We are completely dependent on the generosity of our supporters, sponsors, fundraisers and volunteers. It is only through their loyalty and love that we can continue to do what we do.”
In addition to JAC’s pioneering work with horses, their new indoor centre houses a lovely airy activity room, it is here that I found a range of art and craft ‘therapies’ taking place (although I must say it looked more like fun getting messy with clay and paint to me!). The indoor activities are led by ‘mentors’ who not only engage, encourage and inspire the children in exploration and development, it is clear that for many of the youngsters, this is one place where they can truly experience what it feels like to be respected, valued and loved.
JAC’s mission statement is simple – “We walk alongside young people and families, showing love and acceptance according to Christian principles; encouraging brave and positive choices”. Take it from me, they do it… every word of it!
I have been blessed on my travels to witness first hand, wonderful work in wonderful places, but rarely have I been quite so privileged to have felt such a part of it as I did at JAC. I just wish I lived closer!
To find out more about JAC, visit www.jacoutreach.org or call 0118 944 1444.