Strength in the Saddle

Alumna ensures disabled horseback riders get the therapy they need

5-30-15-Lauren-and-Whitey
Lauren Parslow, ’14, shares a quiet moment with Whitey, one of the horses that provides therapy,
through Freedom Ride, to physically/mentally disabled children and adults.
Lauren Parslow, ’14 | Volunteer Coordinator, Freedom Ride

By Angie Lewis, ’03

“Horses mirror our emotions,” Lauren Parslow, ’14, says. “What we feel, they will feel.”

And, that’s what makes them especially well suited as animal partners in helping children and adults cope with physical and mental disabilities, and post-traumatic stress, while improving their interaction skills and building their confidence.

Parslow, who’s been riding and working with horses since she was 5 years old, works as the volunteer coordinator for Freedom Ride, a therapeutic horseback riding center in Orlando. She loves everything about her job, because it allows her to make a difference in the lives of others every day.

“I can see the changes in the riders, their physical and mental health improving, and their overall quality of life improving,” she explains. “I also love that I get to work with the things I am most passionate about: children and horses.”

Freedom Ride is a PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship)-accredited riding center, which provides therapeutic riding lessons that help its mentally and physically disabled participants gain core strength, posture and balance.

In addition, the non-profit organization also provides hippotherapy, a form of occupational therapy in which a therapist uses the movements of a horse to engage sensorimotor and neuromotor systems to create functional change in a patient. It also offers a military program to help veterans increase self-awareness, enhance coping skills and learn more effective ways to interact and move forward within the community and with loved ones.

Parslow originally majored in forensic science at UCF — until she took chemistry, which was extremely difficult for her. During her struggle, she was also working at the YMCA, which led her down her new path.

“I realized how much I enjoyed working with children,” she explains. “I did my research and knew I didn’t want to become a teacher, so I took the early childhood development track. I loved every class and gave 100 percent every day.”

While pursuing her degree in early childhood development and education, Parslow interned with Freedom Ride for four months to gain the hands-on experience required for her major. Now employed with the organization for almost one year, she ensures they have enough quality volunteers to care for the horses, facility, and work the classes alongside the riders.

“I think my education degree helps me offer my expertise on our riders and their behaviors that the other staff may not understand,” she says. “I’m able to offer insight into why children do certain things and not others, or what they respond to best.”

3-31-15-Lauren-and-Jasper-2
Jasper & Lauren

Horsin’ Around Q&A

Q. What advice do you have for current education students at UCF?
A. Enjoy what you’re studying! You’re going to be guiding future generations. A degree in this field is EXTREMELY important. I wish more people would understand that. The first eight years of life are most important. So many milestones are reached in that time frame. PLEASE enjoy what you are doing. There has to be passion for what you want to do or it will affect future generations.

Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. The first thing I do when I arrive at work is greet all of my staff members and volunteers. We have a small staff, and we always ensure our volunteers have a great time. We’re a family, and I want to make sure that they feel that way. Throughout the day, I enter the volunteer hours into our database, work on the monthly volunteer newsletter, ensure that we have enough volunteers each day, visit the horses and riders, and am thankful that I have a job I enjoy. There are days where we may not have enough volunteers, so I’ll need to work a class, which I thoroughly enjoy! I’m always asking the other staff members if they need anything done, and I will do it if they need the help. My days go by quickly, but I always come to work with a smile on my face and leave with a smile!

Q. What’s the last thing you Googled?
A. “Trucks for sale.” Living on a farm is tough without a truck!

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. I’m a firm believer that if someone says they’re going to do something, they should do it. I don’t like seeing people, or myself, get their hopes up only to have them crushed.

Q. Last book you read?
A. PATH Instructor Manual. I’m going to become a riding instructor!

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. Happy-Go-Lucky, or something along those lines. I’m always, always happy. I always have a smile on my face and enjoy life to the fullest.

Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to beat depression and anxiety. Before attending UCF, I was a very anxious and depressed teenager. I sought help from a psychologist and her dog, and overcame my depression and anxiety. Those two things are very hard to beat and overcome, but I’m glad I did. I think that’s why I’m such a happy and thankful individual.

Q. Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Worrying never changes the outcome. How true is that?!

Q. What’s something you learned in the past week?
A. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to step up and take care of things when no one else is willing to help. It’s difficult, but it can be done!

Q. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
A. I’m easily intimidated, and I do NOT like confrontation.

More Info

See how Lauren and Freedom Ride are helping others:

Related

Equestrian Club at UCF Expands Outside of Stables

Swinging for Scholarships

UCF alumna puts on her dancing shoes to help raise money for nursing students

JoyceDeGennaro-dance1
Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, practices with dance partner Tony Sterling for Femmes de Coeur’s “Let Us Entertain You” competition
to help raise money for UCF nursing scholarships. (Photo: Zack Thomas, UCF Foundation)

By Angie Lewis, ’03

When Joyce DeGennaro, ’03, decided to apply for the College of Nursing’s accelerated B.S.N. program, she needed some assistance to help ease the financial burden of pursuing another degree. After all, she was a little older, and had a 6-month-old baby and mortgage at the time. That’s when she discovered the Femmes de Coeur scholarship, for which she applied and was awarded, helping her to pay for tuition and books, and graduate without student-loan debt in 2009.

Femmes de Coeur (Women of Heart) is an Orlando-based, not-for-profit volunteer organization that regularly hosts fundraising events to support numerous local community projects, including nursing scholarships at UCF, Valencia College, Seminole State College and the Florida Hospital’s Adventist University of Health Sciences.

Becoming a nurse wasn’t DeGennaro’s original plan, however. She grew up thinking she wanted to become a counselor or forensic psychologist, which is why she earned her first UCF bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in criminal justice, in 2003. But, it was her work in Florida Hospital’s inpatient placement program that inspired her to go back to school to become a nurse.

Forever thankful for her opportunity to follow her passion, DeGennaro recently had the opportunity to participate in Femmes de Coeur’s annual dance competition, “Let Us Entertain You,” which raises money for exact scholarship that helped put her through nursing school.

She had no previous dance experience before the competition, but was in good hands with her 19-year dancing veteran and partner, Tony Sterling. The pair practiced twice a week since March, and took the stage June 14 in the ballroom at Church Street Station, dancing the West Coast Swing to Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” While they didn’t take the top prize, they did place third, which means about $10,000 in nursing scholarships for UCF.

JoyceDeGennaro-dance2

“It was my way of being able to give back to something that helped me.” DeGennaro says.

She also gives back daily, in a different way — helping to educate future nurses in the College of Nursing, where she was hired as a permanent nursing instructor in January.

Her journey from practical to practicum began while she was working as a nurse in the multisystem-transplant ICU at Florida Hospital South, where she became a certified preceptor and discovered a love for teaching. So, once again, DeGennaro re-enrolled at UCF — this time in the nurse educator master’s program, from which she graduated in 2013.

“I love being a nurse,” she says. “I love caring for people. [But,] as a nurse educator, I’m able to impart my knowledge and experience into my students. Every time they help or care for someone, I feel as though I’m a part of it. So, in essence, I’m able to touch more people’s lives than ever before!”

While she’s not planning to make a career out of dancing, DeGennaro is planning to continue her UCF education, beginning her Ph.D. in summer 2016, with plans to do research in critical care.

UCF Alumni Hosts 2015 Chapter & Club Council

CCC-awards-3
During the annual AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council, chapter and club chairs were presented with
framed photos of the Reflecting Pond as a token of thanks for all of their hard work and dedication to the UCF Alumni Association.

On Saturday, June 13, following the previous evening’s 8th Annual UCF Jefferson Awards & Alumni Volunteer Reception, nearly 60 regional, college and special interest chapter and club alumni volunteers — from Central Florida and across the nation — attended the UCF Alumni Association’s AlumKnights of the Roundtable: 2015 Chapter & Club Council at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center.

The morning began with a keynote address and Q&A by Anthony Jenkins, Ph.D., UCF’s senior associate vice president and dean of students.

Next, alumni staff presented this year’s Chapter & Club Awards, which included:

  • The College Chapter Challenge Award tasked college-based alumni chapters to engage in professional development activities within their chapters that add value to their degrees and make meaningful connections back to the university. This year’s winner hosted an evening to provide alumni with a tool that’s invaluable in the industry in which they work — customer service training, provided by best-selling author Tim Miles. Congratulations to the Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter!
  • The Regional Chapter/Club Challenge Award tasked regional chapters with executing events with a strong university connection — which isn’t always easy when you’re not in Orlando! However, this year’s winner impressed the selection committee by working on events with local businesses in their community, while also working with the UCF regional campus closest to them on their signature event, Starry Knights. Last year, Starry Knights raised more than $6,000 for scholarships and, after this year’s event in July, they will be one step closer to their goal of endowing their chapter’s scholarship. Congratulations to the Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter!
  • The Constituent Chapter Challenge Award tasked special interest chapters with creating opportunities to create meaningful connections with our student population. Chapter volunteers participated as panelists for the 4EVER KNIGHTS Alumni Speaker Series and served as mentors in the 4EK Connect program. Their signature professional development conference, PRO CON, raised $8,000 this year and allowed the chapter to engage with students in various stages of the UCF experience. Congratulations to the UCF Young Alumni Chapter!
  • The Chapter or Club of the Year Award was presented to the overall chapter or club that covered all of the bases in not only event programming, but in communicating with alumni and building meaningful connections. The selection committee was impressed by the winning group, not only for their philanthropic events — participating in multiple events through the year in addition to UCF’s annual day of service, Knights Give Back — but also in the goals they set and how they reached them. They’ve grown their LinkedIn following from just 10 members to nearly 300, while becoming a chapter only two years ago. The judges were thoroughly impressed! Congratulations to the Denver UCF Alumni Chapter!

Chapter and club leaders then participated in breakout sessions on the alumni association’s strategic plan goals of communication, engagement, relevance and funding. After lunch, they continued with roundtable discussions on board management, social media, student engagement, professional development/career-focused events, and partnerships.

Before wrapping up the day-long conference with a catered happy hour and UCF Bookstore merchandise sales, attendees got to meet and participate in a Q&A with Mike Morsberger, the new vice president for alumni relations and development, and CEO of the foundation.

Thank you to all of our dedicated alumni volunteers! Go Knights! Charge On!

VIEW EVENT PHOTO GALLERY

Palm Beach Chapter Provides Valentine’s Dinner with Love

PalmBeach-VDay2015

By Angie Lewis, ’03

On Feb. 11, the Palm Beach UCF Alumni Chapter made its second visit to the Quantum House, which lessens the burdens for families with children receiving treatment in Palm Beach County for serious medical conditions.

This time, chapter volunteers prepared a Valentine’s Day-themed meal, complete with heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches, organic tomato soup and a salad bar with heart-shaped tomatoes. After dinner, the kids got to decorate cupcakes, brownies and chocolate-covered strawberries with a variety of red and pink icing and candies. (The groceries were provided by Loggerhead Marina.)

“Our group left feeling inspired,” says Brittany Miller, ’07, chair of the Palm Beach UCF Alumni Chapter. “Many of our volunteers were asking how they can stay involved with the Quantum House on their own time.”

The chapter participates in many different volunteer projects throughout the year. It’s previously worked with Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Boys Town South Florida, Big Heart Basket Brigade and Paint Your Heart Out/United Way.

Miller adds, “It’s great being able to connect our UCF alumni with these organizations, broadening the impact we have in the Palm Beach community.”

SEE THE PHOTOS