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As we enter the third year of the pandemic, the need to be mindful of your own mental health, and that of your friends and family, continues to grow in importance. In addition to the everyday stresses of life, the psychological, social and physical pressures surrounding COVID-19 can feel overwhelming and take a toll.
At EQUI-KIDS, a charitable group here in Tidewater, we have long been aware of the importance of ensuring a strong mental health support system in the region. Established more than 30 years ago, EQUI-KIDS started as a unique, equine-assisted services program to help children and adults with special needs overcome obstacles to reach their full potential.
Additionally, through our EQUI-VETS program, we strive to support the Tidewater’s significant veteran population through therapeutic riding, which has been shown to reduce the effects of post-traumatic disorder, as supported by organizations such as the National Institutes of Health. EQUI-KIDS is a premier accredited center through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
The pandemic has prompted an enormous increase in calls from concerned parents looking for support for children of all ages. These families seek relief as children manage significant stressors, from disrupted schedules to the loss of family members. We have gained valuable insights with regards to areas of need and the types of programs required to support the youth of our community. We have been able to assist our local population because of the specialized equine programs we are able to offer as a complement to the region’s mental health support system.
This much is clear: Our mental health support network in the Tidewater region is overtaxed. There simply aren’t enough services or financial resources available to meet current needs. The major increase in demand for our specialized programs has required more money to serve the community of individuals we support. Despite the massive increase in state and federal funding to fight the pandemic, our organization continues to rely solely on private revenue sources to maintain operations.
We are privately funded primarily through individual donations, corporate sponsorships, grant programs and fundraising, but the COVID-19 crisis has stretched our private funding sources to the limit. To keep our commitment to providing access to our programs free of charge or at significantly reduced rates, additional revenue has been essential during this time of greatest need.
Fortunately, for the Virginians we serve, an indispensable source of funding has stepped up to assist us at this critical time: organizations that use Virginia’s legal and regulated charitable gaming system, which has helped drive substantial, charitable donations across the commonwealth for decades.
Organizations such as Reba’s Animal Rescue in Chesapeake have provided EQUI-KIDS and EQUI-VETS and the Virginians we serve with vitally important financial resources. Reba’s raised those resources through Virginia’s legal charitable gaming regulatory framework created by the Virginia General Assembly many years ago. These state laws allow licensed organizations to conduct charitable gaming, which is heavily regulated by the state.
Now Virginia’s oldest form of legal gaming is coming under attack from those who would rather not see veterans’ groups, church groups, volunteer fire departments, animal rights groups and other service organizations — such as EQUI-KIDS — benefit from regulated charitable gaming. We are concerned about the future of legal gaming, and the charitable donations it drives, given the spread of illegal gaming across the commonwealth.
During the General Assembly session, we hope our state lawmakers understand the positive, real-world impact that regulated charitable gaming has on real people – here at EQUI-KIDS and EQUI-VETS and for charitable programs supported by Virginia’s veterans’ groups, volunteer firefighters, church groups, police organizations, service groups, youth sports leagues and many others.
We hope senators and delegates, and our new governor, will not allow a few of their General Assembly colleagues to destroy the legal charitable gaming that has helped make a major difference in the lives of Virginians.
Beth Yurkovac is the executive director of EQUI-KIDS in Virginia Beach.