ELIZABETH, Colo. -- Organizers of an equine therapy program that helps children with autism questions why transportation issues with Denver Public Schools that prevented the program from be attended wasn’t flagged earlier.
Volunteers at the Equine Partnership Program were excited to work with Denver students this year after programs were put on hold last year due to COVID-19.
"We were really excited to be able to offer it [the program] to Denver Public Schools free of charge. We received a generous grant that, we then said we would, our organization would extend all of that to Denver Public Schools, so that we could not be able to have to charge anything to them," said Lee Dudley, Founder and Program Director for the Equine Partnership Program.
Contact Denver7 learned the program was ultimately canceled due to transportation issues. Earlier this week, a mother and her autistic son shared their story. Travis Howell, a student, said he was left waiting for with other students after a transportation snafu left them unable to attend equine therapy.
"Since we couldn’t go, we just watched some stuff on horses. That was nice. It would’ve been fun to at least get to go to it," said Howell. "Other students were really bummed out about it."
Dudley said the contract to provide the program was finalized over the summer, and she didn't have any reason to believe transportation would be an issue. She said that's why she was so surprised when she received a phone call from Denver Public Schools stating the program would be canceled. The Equine Partnership Program has been working with Denver students since 2018.
"This time they were sending 12 to 15 kids, which was more than we usually do, which required us to get some extra horses, extra equipment, have enough volunteers trained and ready," said Dudley.
The grant was supposed to be used in 2020, but it was extended due to COVID-19. If the grant is unable to be used, the small nonprofit will have to return the money.
"Now we’re kind of really in a really tough spot. The grant that we received to be able to provide for programming has to be utilized by the end of 2021. Had we known that Denver Public Schools was not going to be able to do their end of the transportation, I would’ve been able to offer this program to another school free of charge," said Dudley.
A spokesperson for Denver Public Schools said in a statement the equine therapy program is an after school program that is not run by DPS. He said the district has not provided transportation in the past and is unable to provide transportation now.
"We’d still love to have this program come. If there’s a way that it can get worked out, or it there was a way that Denver Public Schools can figure out their transportation, we are here and ready and waiting," said Dudley.
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