Designing for a whole new life: Director Hank Smith’s 40-year commitment to his neighboring community

A brick sign with the word "Maryridge" stands next to a white fence, surrounded by green grass and plants. Two lanterns are mounted on top of the sign. A large tree is visible to the left, and the sky is overcast, perfectly capturing Director Hank Smith's 40-year commitment to our neighboring community.

 

For Hank Smith, giving back to his community isn’t just a hobby, it has been a 40-year investment. Hank’s home stands right next door to the Marbridge Assisted Living Campus – a non-profit residential community for adults with a wide range of cognitive disabilities.

The founder of the ranch, Marjorie Bridges, was the mother of an adult with cognitive disorders. She and her husband didn’t want to put their child into a state institution, so they moved into the country and created a community to support others with cognitive disabilities and empower them with the life skills needed to be contributing members of the community. What used to be a ranch for boys has evolved into a community caring for nearly 300 adults with intellectual disabilities.

When Hank got involved in creating a vision for the future 20 years ago, he knew the site had many problems to solve and needs to be met; for example, The Creed Ford 111 Therapeutic Riding Ranch. The riding ranch has been a part of the community since 2006 but can no longer keep up with the current demand. To begin with, the ranch didn’t have any covered areas, so classes had to be canceled whenever the weather became too hot or cold. When it did rain, the drainage system in place caused the horse stalls to flood, resulting in mud pits with only buckets available to collect all the excess water. The stalls themselves were built for miniature horses, but the ranch was home to mainly adult horses. There was no running water and, worst of all, there were no bathrooms near the stalls, so students struggling with incontinence issues would have to walk across the ranch to the dormitories to be cared for. The goal was clear: a new facility would make the ranch more comfortable for horses, staff, and students.

The riding ranch is just one example of Hank’s contributions to the community, alongside Marbridge’s Director. He first assisted the Marbridge Foundation by helping them sell the property to a buyer. The buyer was a homebuilder, and as they built residential homes, they agreed to build cottages on-site where the adults could live. The cottages included four bedrooms with a nursing station in the middle, a common living area, and a kitchen. Hank himself assisted in building a gym, swim center, and laundromat over the years as he has continued to donate his time.

When asked why Hank has given so much time and energy to his neighboring community, he shared the deep connection he had with the ranch. “My parents used to visit the ranch and teach Bible studies when I was a kid, so the ranch has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I also know how much of an impact this program has on residents,” he shared. “They had one resident who had never spoken in her life. She didn’t talk to her parents, her family, or her doctor. They gave her a horse to take care of, and she immediately started talking to the horse. She won’t talk to people, but she will talk to the horse.”

Hank has been an engineer with Atwell for almost five years. His dedication to supporting his community, his selflessness, and his passion for making a difference is inspirational. The best part of the project, Hank shared, has been “meeting the team who runs the equestrian facility at Marbridge and getting input from them on what they needed. We wanted feedback from people who work at the facilities every day and work with them to really maximize the residence life experience. The residents who take care of the horses and ride the horses, this is where they’re going to live forever. This is their permanent home. So, we wanted to make sure that we were doing everything to fit them. And that was a great experience of sitting down with him to say, alright, what do you guys need?”

Despite the many challenges they’ve faced over the years, the new therapeutic riding ranch is taking shape. The estimated date of completion is March of 2023.