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Lifestyle

Saddling up to give others a ride

McDaniel College freshman Caitlyn McSorley has never let her dyslexia get in the way of helping others. Instead, it was the catalyst for doing so.

"I was diagnosed with dyslexia, and throughout school a lot of the times I felt I was on the receiving end of help," said McSorley. "I wanted to give back."

And ever since elementary school, McSorley, 19, has found ways to do just that.

She's volunteered with Best Buddies, an organization promoting one-to-one friendships for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. McSorley has also participated in mission trips with her church to Texas and Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Ike. And each summer she volunteers through her church for a weeklong program at the Agape House in Baltimore to help underprivileged children.

For the past three years, while attending high school in Harford County, she assisted at least twice a week at Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding in Havre de Grace. McSorley groomed horses, got them saddled and ready to ride, helped with the therapeutic riding lessons and assisted as a side walker for the program.

The side walker role took a special person to fill, says Cathy Schmidt, executive director of the nonprofit riding center.

"She's just one of those gems you come across," said Schmidt. "She was in high school and came to the volunteer orientation and started volunteering right away. She's so versatile and has a great attitude."

McSorley volunteered regularly, typically working with the youngest, most compromised clients, in the program known as hippotherapy, a form of physical therapy on horseback, where the movement of the horse is utilized to facilitate motor improvement in clients.

"We needed consistency with that program. She would come early, get the horses ready for sessions and would side walk with the physical therapist," said Schmidt. "She's very engaging, and the kids were just drawn to her."

For McSorley, the chance to volunteer with the therapeutic riding program hit home. She said while the program obviously benefited clients, it also helped them on a social level.

"It's a therapeutic program for them, but it's also a chance to get them out of the doctor's office, or a therapy session," said McSorley. "So it's something that they're definitively benefiting from but it's also fun and enjoyable at the same time."

Her volunteer efforts with the riding program, church and other organizations, has gained McSorley a spot as one of the top 10 finalists in this year's Compassionate Marylander Award, a program of the office of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Maryland: Stronger Together initiative.

A review committee will soon choose five winners from the list of 10 and CareFirst, the corporate partner, will donate $5,000 in each winner's name to a charity of their choice.

McSorley, a social work major, is the only college student on the list of finalists and says if she wins the $5,000 will go to Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding.

"I was very surprised," said McSorley about being selected as a top 10 finalist for the award. "I'm so excited. I really hope I do receive it, because the farm has helped me out and basically they deserve it."

Jim Kunz, associate professor in social work at McDaniel College, said he was not surprised she is a finalist in the program. "We are thrilled…she represents many McDaniel students who spend numerous hours volunteering while carrying a full college load," Kunz said. "As an individual with dyslexia, she doesn't let that get in her way."

McSorley was also recently recognized by the International Dyslexia Association with a Finish Line achievement award and $1,000 scholarship.

Although McSorely is away at college, she still helps out at the riding center during school breaks. She has also found new ways to volunteer, including helping out at a Head Start program near McDaniel, and later this year she hopes to volunteer at a shelter for women and children.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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