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Meet Matt Howells of Tara’s Chance

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Howells.

Hi Matt, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
While attending Mater Dei High School, I volunteered at St. Joseph’s church in Placentia working with children with special needs while their parents attended mass. I discovered my passion for working with children with special needs, volunteering, and serving others. After graduating from Mater Dei, I wanted to serve others on a large scale. I decided to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard to serve others as part of an amazing team. I first served on a 210-foot cutter in the Caribbean Sea, seizing drugs and saving immigrants. Following my tour on the ship, I went to helicopter rescue swimmer training in Elizabeth City North Carolina. This specialized training program graduates 5% of Coasties who attempt it. I gave the program my all twice but failed on one of the final physical tests twice. I woke up every day during training, knowing how grueling the day would be, and determined to succeed. I was driven by my desire to be a last line of life for many in peril. After training, I went to New Orleans to serve the Coast Guards 8th District facilities as an engineer. I met my wife while serving in the Coast Guard and when I separated from the service, I moved to Michigan because that is where she was stationed. I attended the University of Michigan and studied business and economics. When I graduated, I was unsure of what my next step in life would be. But I had the same guiding principles of wanting to serve others and be part of something larger than myself. When the opportunity came to serve as the CEO of Tara’s Chance, a therapeutic riding center for children with special needs, I knew I had found my joy.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
My life has been full of joy but there have been challenges. My stages of my journey have been physically and mentally challenging. But I have always persevered because of my passion for what I was striving to accomplish. I have also chosen to highlight the good times in my past and minimize the bad. Yes, I remember working in a 120-degree engine room for 24 hours straight, or almost drowning, or feeling like I knew nothing because an exam was so challenging. However, I more often think of the amazing friends, knowledge, experience, and service I gained along the road.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Tara’s Chance?
Isabella Davis was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy just two months before her second birthday. SMA is a degenerative disease that does not allow her to build new muscle and creates complications with her energy, eating, breathing, and bone health. In 2012 at the age of 3, Bella began equine therapy at Tara’s Chance. When she started, she could only ride for 30 seconds and needed full support from her side walkers and a special saddle. As Bella continued to push herself, she grew with the support of Tara’s Chance to now being able to ride for 30 minutes unassisted! Since SMA is a progressive disease, medically she shouldn’t get stronger. But riding on the horse is a gentle, efficient, and fun way to help her strengthen her little muscles and has helped her defy doctor’s predictions. Doctors used words to describe Bella’s diagnosis like failure to thrive, contractors, scoliosis, maintain, progression, decline, terminal. Tara’s chance focuses on moving forward no matter what the diagnoses. We found a safe way to provide support, therapy and do more than just maintain. Tara’s Chance gave Bella a new word for her vocabulary, hope, and along with hope comes joy. Her mom Jackie writes, “When I see how healthy she is and how strong she has gotten, I know it is largely due to horse therapy. If we hadn’t started this therapy, I know she would not be as strong or healthy as she is today.”

Tara’s Chance is dedicated to promoting the physical, cognitive, and social well-being of those with special needs through equine-assisted activities and therapies. Established in September of 2012, this exciting concept in equestrian therapy combines vaulting (gymnastics on a moving horse) and therapeutic riding resulting in exceptional goal-orientated programs for special needs children. Tara’s Chance is a place where therapy feels like play for our riders.

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
We are working to create a strong and expansive community at Tara’s Chance. Our community is full of individuals, organizations, businesses, and groups who allow us to serve out our mission. Each time we have someone in our community advocate and share our mission, we are growing and able to serve more children. We rely on volunteers to run our Board of Directors, working with the horses and children, marketing, research, fundraising, and everything we do. So please share Tara’s Chance with your family, friends, and community. If you would like to join us in our mission of service, please visit taraschance.org to learn more.

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