GILMER - For the month of February, CBS 19 is celebrating champions in the East Texas community.
But, what makes someone an East Texas Community Champion?
Dawn Martin is the Executive Director at Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center of East Texas.
As this week's honoree, Martin shows it's not only about helping people. It's about putting East Texans first.
With the help of skilled instructors and a team of volunteers, Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center of East Texas is about so much more than riding a horse.
"Knowing the difference that we make with them, be it small steps through the journey of the year, we are there. I don't know what's more gratifying," Martin said.
Martin has been with the nonprofit since its beginning. She discovered Windridge at the Gregg County Fair in 1989.
"I didn't know anything about therapeutic riding. I just knew I have always had a love for horses and I've ridden on and off throughout my childhood."
Martin started out as a volunteer.
"I led the horses, I was a side walker, I aided in barn activities, taking care of the horses."
She later became Founder Margo Dewkett's Executive Assistant.
"I just wanted to see how much I could be in her hair," Martin said.
They worked together for over 20 years, until Dewkett's retirement in 2016, to build and expand the 38,000 square foot center.
At the center, 85 students come each week for classes from 10 counties in East Texas.
Through repeated exercises, children and adults with disabilities are able to improve their strength and balance, while developing their motor skills and self esteem.
"It's the horse's movement that stimulates and moves our bodies as if it's walking correctly, from the tip of our head to our toes our vocal chords...our internal organs function at a more rhythmic way just because the horse is moving."
Windridge is also the first therapeutic horsemanship center in East Texas and is funded completely by the community it serves.
"The community of East Texas, Tyler, Longview, Marshall...all these peoples came together."
Martin said the community's support means the world to Windridge students and their families.
"The person doesn't always receive that in the community, the gift that the community gave and still gives."
It's a gift that she doesn't take lightly. Martin said it's why the work Windridge does is so important.
"I just know this place, this hill called Windridge touches lives and we aid in the community," Martin said.
For more information about Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center of East Texas or to learn how to become a volunteer, visit their website.
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