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Gala celebrates White Horse Youth Ranch milestones

Hannah Newmaker’s voice quivered as she delivered a speech at the White Horse Youth Ranch’s gala event July 19 in Las Vegas.

Nearly 70 people rose in a standing ovation, fueling Hannah’s confidence to finish.

Despite being diagnosed with dyslexia, the 10-year-old girl set to prove that “learning differences” don’t define her character.

“It’s hard to find confidence in yourself when everyone stares at you for reading so slow. It used to make me cry into my pillow at night,” Hannah said. “WHY Ranch has shown me that not everyone judges. I’ve gotten better with their help and have read three books so far.”

The ranch, a nonprofit that inspires and educates socially challenged children using horses, purchased a new property in southwest Las Vegas and is celebrating its fifth year of programming, according to founder Amy Meyer.

“So many people didn’t think we would make it,” Meyer said. “So many tried to destroy our dream for WHY Ranch in our community, but we kept our minds focused on our purpose to positively change our community one child at a time.”

Designed for riders 8 to 18, the organization hopes to serve about 50 children in its four programs. The children must apply monthly and pass a screening process in order to participate.

“WHY Ranch has recognized that some kids, who are reserved, introverted, bullied, shy or withdrawn from family and social situations, need to learn social skills,” Meyer said. “It makes them confident and proactive to social situations.”

The idea came to Meyer in 2005 after the death of her aunt and grandparents Paul and Helen Meyer, known to many for the Paul E. & Helen S. Meyer Foundation.

“I dedicated 12 years of my life to my grandparents and aunt, and I took care of each one as they slowly passed away,” Meyer said. “I prayed for two months for guidance on what God’s purpose was for my life. He showed me WHY Ranch, and ever since, I’ve been on one wild ride.”

The organization received a $3.1 million property that contained ranch in 2006, but neighborhood resistance forced organizers to look for another location.

“Our neighbors didn’t like our program coming to the neighborhood, so we decided to search for host facilities … while we searched for another property,” Meyer said. “We started our first Diamonds in the Rough program at a stable host location in December 2009.”

In February, the nonprofit purchased property near Durango Drive and the 215 Beltway.

“Having our own property allows WHY Ranch to open its gates to serve more kids and families throughout the week,” Meyer said. “By having our own property, WHY Ranch is able to fully engage in relationships within our community in greater ways.”

Peer mentor Lauren Sokolowski, 16, was introduced to the organization in 2009 through a friend after years of being bullied in school.

“It was horrible being bullied. There were times where I kind of just stopped trying,” Sokolowski said. “As a mentor, I like to help kids and share my knowledge and experience with them because I don’t want people to hurt like I did.”

At the gala, Sokolowski received the inaugural Lauren Award for having “true grit and being proactive in the face of adversity,” according to Meyer.

Sokolowski will have the honor of awarding its future recipients.

“The program has given me the ability to trust in myself and helped me grow into who I’m becoming now,” Sokolowski said. “I’m thankful for WHY Ranch and (Meyer) because I don’t know where I would be without them.”

For more information, visit whyranch.org or call 702-644-9177.

Contact Henderson View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at cbelcher@viewnews.com or 702-383-0403.

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