Wendy Atkinson, whose work at the Wings of Hope Ranch with children who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum or have other challenges, is the 2021 winner of the Jean C. Harris Award for Excellence. The Jean C. Harris Award excellence is the top annual award given out by the Hanover County Community Services Board (CSB).
Wendy’s course with the Wings of Hope Ranch is called CHILD 101 and prepares the organization’s volunteers on how to work effectively with children with special needs.
“The children we serve are often children with Autism Spectrum Diagnosis, Intellectual disabilities, family addiction issues, trauma and related results of the stress/trauma, past abuse, anxiety, depression, ODD, ADHD, foster children and children with attachment challenges,” said Alison Boyd of Wings of Hope, a non-profit horse ministry that reaches out to children facing difficult emotional and/or physical challenges. “Many times these challenges result in behavioral issues at home, school and more. Understanding the behaviors and how they relate to the child’s trauma/sensory brain, has given us a whole new perspective on how to recognize the needs and help these children learn and grow.”
“Since Wendy started volunteering with us, under her consultation, we have added a sensory classroom, and “sensory emergency” take along bag to use with our clients,” Boyd added. “For the children that find it very difficult to pay attention during a lesson or get antsy to move on to the next activity before the group is ready, our sensory area/tools/bags that Wendy has trained us to use, and the volunteers that work with them and our horses find her training it very successful. Wendy supervises sessions with the volunteers, horses and children once a week. She brings her ‘little sister’ from the Little Sisters Big Sisters program, and they volunteer together.”
Boyd noted that many times, “it is Wendy who is able to teach the children to communicate for the very first time. When that happens it is a MIRACLE. Wendy is the closest thing we have to a miracle worker here on Earth!”
Atkinson is an occupational specialist by profession. “This is just a touch of what she does,” Boyd said, who noted that Atkinson has also spent years consulting with churches and helping them be inclusive for families with children with challenges. “I don’t know how she fits all of this in. We’re just very grateful. When you get to Heaven,” she told Atkinson, “there is going to be a grand party far and wide to show you how far your love has reached.”
Melissa Young of the Hanover County CSB presented the award to Wendy Atkinson.
In an emotional speech held in the Board of Supervisors meeting room, Atkinson urged all to participate in community service.
“Anyone can do it but not everybody does it,” she said. “There are so many ways you can serve. I knew nothing about horses, but it made me grow….If everyone did do community service of some kind, wow, what a community we would have. Find a place that you’re passionate about or a thing that you are passionate about, and that way it just becomes a part of your life.”
“I really hope I’m serving until I’m 90,” Atkinson added. “You really need to create time. Otherwise, you won’t make the time. You need to find what fits in your life. Community service makes us see others in a different light. It decreases our sense of judgement of other people, and it gives us a diverse love for all kinds of people. It also gives us a greater sense of the needs around us and how we can use our skills and talents to meet those needs.”
The CSB presents the Jean C. Harris Award for Excellence to Hanover-based individuals, families or groups that demonstrate outstanding contribution in the areas of intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental health, and/or substance use. The late Mrs. Harris was a long time board member, community volunteer and advocate who was a founding member of the CSB.
For more information about this award, contact the Hanover County Community Services Board at 804-365-4222.