By Kate Daly
Special to the Almanac
May and June are turning out to be big months for Riley's Place, a nonprofit that provides children in need with opportunities to interact with animals at its Woodside location, local hospitals, homeless shelters and events.
On May 11 the organization will celebrate its fourth anniversary with a benefit dinner and concert, and will launch a capital campaign to help cover expansion plans.
That same month the Woodside Town Council is scheduled to meet and present a proclamation naming June 1 as Riley's Place Day in Woodside. That day the Woodside Fire Protection District will be staging a "Fill the Helmet" fundraiser for Riley's Place at the intersection of Woodside and Canada roads.
"We are currently serving about 1,300 children per year, and our programs have flourished beyond our wildest dreams," said Riley's Place co-founder and executive director Wendy Mattes. "We are now running two program visits per day, with many more requests, and will need more room to add more animals in order to serve more children."
For now, three miniature horses, two Nigerian goats, four chickens, three rabbits, two guinea pigs and two cats reside at Riley's Place, which is located in the back of the National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy at 880 Runnymede Road in Woodside.
NCEFT offers therapy on horseback for many of the disabled children who visit Riley's each week. Trained therapy dogs visit from time to time, and some 4-H sheep make guest appearances when the animals make regular road trips to Ronald McDonald House, for example, to connect with children who are too fragile to travel to Woodside.
Riley's Place is named after Riley Church, a teenager who took riding lessons from Ms. Mattes until succumbing to a brain tumor. Toward the end, when friends brought a horse right into Riley's home for a visit, the experience brought such comfort it inspired the program.
A new addition to the program is adult participation. The Alzheimer's Social Club came out to Riley's Place recently, and is planning to return on a monthly basis. "They loved the animals, and the animals loved them," Ms. Mattes said.
Another new addition is Riley's partnership with Webb Ranch in Portola Valley. Together they are offering free therapeutic horseback riding lessons at the ranch "with the goal of improving confidence, self-esteem, balance, coordination, communication skills, and having fun," Ms. Mattes said.
One of the boys she met at Ronald McDonald House rides at Webb when he can. Stephen Schneider, 12, comes in from Vacaville for regular checkups after having a heart transplant at Stanford. Ms. Mattes said she was deeply touched by a note he wrote about enjoying all the animals. He signed it: "Thank you, from the bottom of my new heart, Stephen."
He will be speaking at a Riley's Place fundraiser, to be held at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto on May 11 from 5 to 9 p.m. Comedian Jim Giovanni, aka Buck Butane, will emcee. Italian tenor Pasquale Esposito will return to the event to perform Italian, Neapolitan, American and Spanish songs with his band.
Tickets for the benefit dinner and concert are $125 each.
Visit rileys-place.org or call (650) 703-5199 for more information.