The winding trails within Reins of Life's 46-acre campus make for a peaceful slice of paradise.
With trees and pastures serving as an environmental shield from a nearby boister
ous stretch of Interstate 94, it offers visitors tranquility.
Near the entrance of these trails - across from the main barn and adjacent to a pond - sits a clearing. Senior Kate Zientarski hopes that clearing will serve as the site of her legacy with both Marquette and Reins of Life.
Zientarski's connection with horses began when she was just four years old. Her family moved from Chicago to Michigan City shortly after her birth, and she was taking horse lessons before Kindergarten. The owner of two horses (Penny and Samson), Zientarski's equine passion remained strong as she embarked on her Marquette career, and that devotion coupled with the school's focus on community service ignited a special partnership.
Throughout her four-year career at Marquette, Zientarski has spent hundreds of hours with Reins of Life at their facility off CR 300 North. An organization focused on helping those in need, Reins of Life's mission is to improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through equine-assis
This past year, Marquette has sent over 70 student volunteers that have accrued over 500 hours of service to the organization.
"The Marquette family has been very generous to Reins of Life this year. In addition to the volunteer hours throughout the year, two students helped install insulation in our arena on a weekend. Marquette also held a fundraiser for us during Catholic Schools Week, and we have some active volunteers who are current students or graduates," Beth Cortelyou, special programs coordinator, said.
Cortelyou has been working with Reins of Life for over three years. In developing relationships with numerous organizations in the area including Marquette, Michigan City Area Schools, and the LaPorte County School Corporation, she's enabled students throughout the area to experience the joy of giving back.
Zientarski has been a driving force behind Marquette's involvement. She's particularly proud of the bond formed with a student named Grace.
"Grace has a disability that affects her legs, but she's come such a long way since working with us at Reins. When she first got here, she couldn't walk. Now, she's gained confidence and is a fantastic rider, " Zientarski said.
At Reins of Life, student volunteers are paired with horses that match their personality.
"Like most therapy animals, our horses pick up on your demeanor. If you're skittish, the horse is probably going to be skittish, too," Cortelyou observed.
Because of her familiarity with horses, Zientarski has been paired with Chocolate, the tallest horse at Reins of Life. Like her time with Grace, Zientarski has cherished her interactions with Chocolate.
"He's definitely the drama king of the bunch. Grace and I have spent many lessons laughing with each other as I lead Chocolate," Zientarski said with a smile.
A HEART FOR ART
Zientarski's affection for horses may be matched only by her love for art - conceptual art, to be more precise.
"I like to create things. Everything I draw is conceptual. I don't like drawing characters that already exist. I have my own worlds and characters," Zientarski stated.
After she graduates summa cum laude from Marquette in a week a
nd a half, Zientarski will be attending IUPUI's Herron School of Art and Design where she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in Drawing and Illustration.
It's her dream to one day see her drawings and stories on the big screen. In the meantime, her combination of artistic excellence and affinity for Reins of Life have created an opportunity right in Chocolate's backyard.
Reins of Life contacted Marquette art guru Edwin Shelton about constructing a mural in a small grassy area just a few paces north of a massive barn called "the arena." Inside the arena is where the vast majority of Marquette volunteers work with other students and with horses of all sizes.
Zientarski pounced on the opportunity and drew up renderings for a layered exhibit that had both Shelton and Cortelyou ecstatic.
"I wasn't sure at first what exactly I wanted, but as soon as I saw Kate's pictures, I said 'This is it. We've got to make this happen'," Cortelyou recalled.
The labor for the mural is easy; drawing is a labor of love for Zientarski. The challenge is in finding the funding for the project. Between materials and paint, the cost is estimated at $1,500.
In addition to continuing her volunteer work at Reins of Life, Zientarski will be working part time over the summer to help fray the cost. The school has raised some funding, but more is still needed.
Thanks to the generosity of its volunteers and donors, upgrades and renovations have been made at Reins of Life from the aforementioned insulation to a new program aimed at assisting veterans.
"My husband (Jim) has been taking part in a one-on-one plan here for the last six weeks and it's brought him back to life. He never worked with horses before, but it's helped so much with his memory and strength," volunteer Diane Sennett attested.
The structural and holistic advances made at Reins of Life have created so many more benefits for local children. Zientarski and Cortelyou both hope that one more aesthetic upgrade can make a beautiful place that much more appealing.
"This project will most definitely be my legacy from Marquette and Reins of Life," Zientarski said.