The $10,000 check from Royal Neighbors of America was celebrated Oct. 2 by New Kingdom Trailriders executive director Jodie Barton (center), volunteer of the year Christine Engebrecht and RNA vice president Curt Zeck (photo by Jonathan Turner).

At a farm in Sherrard, Ill., New Kingdom Trailriders has been enriching the community for 37 years. On Saturday, the nonprofit itself became richer as Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors of America presented leader Jodie Barton with one of its “Nation of Neighbors” awards.

Royal Neighbors — one of the largest and first women-led insurance organizations in the U.S. – aims to recognize pioneering women today across the country, who are making a difference.

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Barton (NKT’s executive director) was presented with the empowerment award and $10,000 grant by RNA vice president Curt Zeck.

“Through Jodie’s work, countless individuals and volunteers have experienced the magic of therapeutic riding,” he said. “Her profound purpose helps others grow and live a more fulfilling life, and this exemplifies Royal Neighbors’ 126-year-old mission to empower women and build strong communities.”

Nation of Neighbors (which started in 2007) recognizes women in the community who are impacting the area in positive ways, Zeck said Saturday.

Barton got hooked after her first visit to NKT in 2015, and enjoys “the magic that happens here,” he said. “The participants – they feel empowered, they feel accepted, and they focus on what their abilities are, and that really energizes Jodie and all the volunteers here.”

She’s been executive director since February 2018, and the organization has served 91 riders a week, with 11 horses, and is growing by leaps and bounds.

“The judges and Christine saw your passion – not only your passion, but your ability to turn that into action and value for the community,” Zeck told Barton. “That’s why I’m here to present you with the Nation of Neighbors award. This is one of 10 we give throughout the United States.”

Curt Zeck, right, vice president of Royal Neighbors of America, with NKT executive director Jodie Barton (center) and volunteer of the year Christine Engebrecht (photo by Jonathan Turner).

She was nominated by NKT Volunteer of the Year Christine Engebrecht, of Milan. “It’s just her enthusiasm and love for the program,” she said of Barton. “For all that you do is just great.”

“I didn’t know that I was being nominated; I thought it was the organization,” Barton said. “I do have a lot of passion for New Kingdom Trailriders. I’ve seen so many amazing things happen throughout the years here. And it literally cannot be explained by anything other than magic.

“We have an amazing team, who welcome every individual that comes into this barn – accepts them for who they are; encourages them to be bigger and more than who they ever thought they could be, and in turn empowers them,” she said.

“I know that’s a fact, because I not only see it, but I have experienced it myself,” Barton said. “It’s the most amazing thing ever. Getting the $10,000 was a huge bonus. We are growing like crazy. The New Kingdom Trailriders have taken off like wildfire.

“We are helping so many individuals in our community,” she said, noting they have grown from about 25 riders a week three years ago, to the current 91 a week. “That is amazing and we work with several local organizations,” including Arrowhead Ranch and Argrow’s House by serving their clients, Barton said.

“We have 11 horses and 11 horses is great, but bringing in that many riders, we needed more horses,” she said. “The other thing about our herd, as amazing and wonderful as they are, they’re also older. So having the ability to go out and purchase horses who are younger, and will give us more longevity, was such an amazing gift.”

The first horse NKT purchased with the Royal Neighbors grant was a female, Cinder, and they decided to name her Royal Cinder, Barton said, standing next to her Saturday.

“She is one of four we have coming in,” she said. “It is huge for us. It just means that we’re gonna be able to continue working our way and growing, helping so many people in our community. And it could not be done without all of you – Royal Neighbors, our volunteers, my amazing team, our board. I thank all of you for this amazing opportunity.”

Jodie Barton, with their new horse Royal Cinder, first volunteered for New Kingdom Trailriders in 2015 and has been executive director since 2018 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“We would be nothing without our volunteers. They get us through thick and thin every single day,” Barton said. On Saturday, the organization also honored their volunteers and gave out incentive prizes.

Monika Sauer, program director, said volunteers average about 100 hours a week total, to make the lessons run. They run about 20 lessons a day and have 200 volunteers per year. Engebrecht was honored for “going above and beyond in everything that’s asked of her,” Sauer said, noting she volunteered 400 hours over the past year.

Helping riders overcome challenges

Founded in 1984, New Kingdom Trailriders is the Quad Cities’ premier nonprofit Therapeutic Horseback Riding Facility, positively impacting the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of riders.

NKT empowers individuals of all ages and abilities to reach their full potential through equine-assisted activities.

“Our volunteers and horses create an environment that is one of true acceptance and encouragement where everyone is allowed to be their unique self,” Barton said. “We focus on each person’s abilities and empower them,” she added.

Half of NKT riders struggle with some form of mental illness, while 32% of riders are on the autism spectrum, according to Horseback riding promotes mental stimulation, physical strengthening, emotional development, and social interaction in a fun and active way.

“The majority of our riders show significant improvements in their core strength, fine and gross motor skills, coordination, self-confidence, mobility, social skills, and verbalization after participating in our riding program,” the group website says.

New Kingdom Trailriders serves people of all ages who have physical, mental or psychological challenges.

Engebrecht has seen the difference equine therapy has made for her nephew with cerebral palsy, who lives in Oshkosh, Wis., and her daughter has worked in physical therapy.

“I started volunteering and I had no prior horse experience. I had to learn everything,” Engebrecht said. “She ended up giving up physical therapy and went into theology, but I stayed here and kept working through Covid and everything. It’s been a real blessing; I love it.”

She’s a retired teacher, and she’s also music director at her church and teaches English to refugees.

“I really like spending time with the volunteers and workers here, and the people who come to ride,” Engebrecht said. “And the horses – it was my childhood dream to spend time with horses. Now after age 50, here I am.”

It not only helps people with special needs improve their physical capabilities, riding helps them socially, by interacting with people and animals, she said. “It’s really good for them. And the volunteers, we all love the riders.”

“I think it helps any physical, emotional, psychological need you might have,” Engebrecht said. “Who doesn’t have something you’re working on? I mean, life isn’t easy. So it is therapeutic for us, too.”

Adding more horses to the program will “give us more variety of ‘personalities’ to match with riders, as well as help ensure our herd program longevity,” Barton said. “More importantly, it will allow New Kingdom Trailriders the opportunity to continue enrolling riders, empowering our community’s most vulnerable.”

NKT is planning to hold a celebration and fundraising event on Oct. 22 at the Bend Event Center, East Moline, with doors opening at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m. Tickets are $60 each and RSVPs are due by Oct. 15 by calling 309-764-4220.

Nation of Neighbors is a Royal Neighbors of America philanthropy program that awards financial assistance to nominated individuals who plan to start or expand a business, organization, program, or nonprofit that helps women and/or girls in their community. To date, $2.5 million has been awarded nationwide.

For more information, visit the Nation of Neighbors site. You can see a complete list of the 2021 award winners HERE.