Unions ride to the rescue of equine-assisted therapy program after flood

Quality Repair
QUALITY REPAIRS: Doug Heidland, owner of Summit Electric, (left) and Jeff Miller, one of his electricians, work on repairs at the facility. – Labor Tribune photo



Kimmswick, MO – After experiencing significant flood damage, a Jefferson County equine-assisted activities and therapy center will be back in business sooner than expected thanks to a helping hand from local labor unions.

Ride On St. Louis (ROSL) is a not-for-profit agency that serves children and adults with disabilities, U.S. veterans and disadvantaged youth. The program uses the unique movement of horses to gain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual improvements of those served.

On Dec. 26, Marita Wassman, ROSL founder and program director, received the call she was dreading most – the impending, rising floodwaters were headed straight toward the center and everything would have to be evacuated. It was the second time in recent years that the Mighty Mississippi had threatened the agency.


“We had to move everything – the horses, bales of hay, tack, lawn equipment, all of our files,” she said. “We ended up with four feet of water in the office and six to seven feet of water in the stalls. The speed of the currents was just unbelievable.”

The raging flood waters inundated the center’s six-acre site, mangling fences, toppling poles and physically carrying a 14-foot by 16-foot wooden, mounting deck away from the stable. After the water receded, volunteers put in more than 600 manhours in about two and a half weeks toward clean up efforts.

“We lost all of our winter clients,” Wassman said. “But with the help of our volunteers – especially the union guys, they’re just doing a fantastic job – we’ll be able to open earlier this spring than expected.”


Restoring Power
RESTORING POWER: Marita Wassman, ROSL founder and program director (left), shows Doug Heidland, owner of IBEW Local 1 signatory contractor Summit Electric, where the agency would like to place the kitchen appliances. – Labor Tribune photo

After learning about what had happened, IBEW Local 1 Business Representative Chuck DeMoulin went out to inspect the damage at the facility. Repairs to the electrical system would be extensive, including new indoor and outdoor switches, ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, wall heaters and new wiring throughout the center.

That’s when DeMoulin reached out to the Electrical Connection – a partnership of the IBEW Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). The Electrical Connection approved a grant for ROSL, which included the donation of materials and services to restore power safely and to code standards. NECA contractor Summit Electric, of Barnhart, Mo., performed the repairs with a team of IBEW electricians.

“It’s always a great feeling to help out in our community,” DeMoulin said. “We’re happy to be able to lend a hand.”


A Helping Hand
A HELPING HAND: IBEW Local 1 Business Representative Chuck DeMoulin (left) reached out to Marita Wassman, ROSL founder and program director, (center) after the facility flooded. Doug Heidland, of Summit Electric, (right) and his team of IBEW electricians managed the electrical repairs. – Labor Tribune photo.

DeMoulin, a member of the Jefferson County Labor Club’s Executive Board, also sought help from other local union members within the club, including Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 and Painters District Council No. 58.

Volunteers from Local 562 repaired two horse watering troughs that had frozen and broken, replaced a toilet and helped with other minor items. The Painters Young Lions, a group of young union painters who band together to do community outreach throughout the year, plan to paint the center after other repairs are made.

“Ride On St. Louis is one of the organizations that we’ve supported throughout the years, and we’re always happy to help,” said Bart Velasco, president of the Jefferson County Labor Club. “Our members do a lot of work like this in the community, and often times people don’t even know about it.”


ROSL, which was founded in 1998, serves disadvantaged youth, veterans and children and adults with diagnosed physical, cognitive and/or emotional disabilities and conditions. The agency employs licensed physical and occupational therapists who treat clients on an individual basis.

In 2002, the center moved to its current location at 6008 Windsor Harbor Lane in Kimmswick. In 2013, flooding affected the agency as well, although not as harshly as it did this time around.

“We’re hoping to move soon,” Wassman said. “Not only are we tired of evacuating, we’ve outgrown this facility. We want to add three other programs, and we just don’t have room here.”

For more information on Ride On St. Louis, call 636-464-3408 or visit rideonstl.org.


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