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Meet Terry Holmes-Stecyk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Terry Holmes-Stecyk.

Hi Terry, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers.
I am an Arizona native, raised in Prescott, Arizona. My grandfather was a ranch manager and horse trainer for the Lazy RT Ranch. I grew up with horses in my blood and that deep love for them is still as strong today.

After retiring my last trail horse, finding a replacement has been close to searching for a unicorn. Two adorable miniature horses and 1 miniature donkey came into my life that helped fill that void as my search continued. These little darlings became my therapy as I worked through the challenges of life and searched for my purpose. And no, I still haven’t found that unicorn.

I was inspired by my previous volunteer activities with miniature horse rescues and nonprofit organizations and asked myself, how could I incorporate my own darling, tiny equines to create a fun, out of the norm, opportunity to promote literacy and bring joy into this world? After a lot of soul searching about this possible new path, I successfully organized Tender Little Hearts Mini Tales, a literacy promotion and reading encouragement program for children. I wanted to provide a safe, empowering environment to spur on literacy growth. The schedule was filled with requests to bring the minis to libraries, schools, foster homes, and child advocacy centers.

Soon after the Mini Tales visits began, rehabilitation and senior care facilities were calling asking if the minis could come to their memory care and skilled nursing sections. That call was answered and I began the process to qualify my 2 miniature horses and donkey as therapy animals. These minis provide therapeutic comfort, a source of emotional confidence, and confidentiality in their interactions. They bring joy and comfort to so many and at each visit, we are blessed to witness these deep connections. As the schedule filled, another miniature horse and donkey soon joined the herd to help with the ever-increasing requests for the minis to visit.

Tender Little Hearts has a unique niche in Equine Assisted Services and Activities in that our qualified therapy equines and handler volunteers conveniently transport our miniature horses and donkeys around the Valley to a variety of hospitals, rehabilitation centers, programs, and centers for physically handicapped children and adults, brain trauma centers, child advocacy centers, libraries, schools, memory care, and skilled nursing care facilities… anywhere a human can benefit from our programs and services. Because we are mobile and use miniature equines, we can bring our qualified therapy animals to individuals who could not otherwise travel to a location for the benefit of the activities or therapy we offer.

At Tender Little Hearts Mini Tales and Assisted Equine Services, we are driven by a single goal — to do our part in making the world a better place.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
One of the most difficult challenges was the emerging COVID pandemic. Events were canceled as facilities were on lockdown to any outside visitors. It was so difficult knowing people needed us, but we couldn’t physically be there for them. I offered Zoom calls and window visits, but what they needed was that physical touch of a loving animal. It did allow me the time to focus on our future and what path I wanted to take with Tender Little Hearts.

Was it an easy journey, certainly not and I am still working towards making Tender Little Hearts self-sufficient through writing for grants, and donations and thinking of creative fundraising ideas to allow us to continue offering our services at no charge so we can continue to serve the underprivileged in our community. Fundraising can be a struggle for me. I was raised by grandparents who instilled their depression era thriftiness and their prideful mindset of never asking for a handout. It took me a while to understand that people want to be a part of this amazing path we are on. They may not be able to do the physical part of it, but they can help us by supporting our mission and programs.

We are 100% volunteer driven. Tender Little Hearts has an amazing group of volunteer handlers within our programs to facilitate our visits. To date, we have provided over 15,000 hours of volunteer service to enrich the lives of children, adults, and seniors in Arizona. The hope is to create an environment where every little horse or donkey is given a purpose to enrich human life, bring joy and comfort, and leave every person with a reason to smile.

It’s an incredible amount of work, every day, to care for the animals, prepare for the visits, and organize volunteer and visitation schedules. It’s a long list of to-dos. And somehow I still find time to offer visits to our mini ranch for a more personal experience. I retired last year which has allowed me more time to focus on my nonprofit, its mission, and its vision. Yet sometimes, I still wish I had 24 more hours in a day. Our miniature equine may be tiny, but they are doing mighty work to better the lives of each human they touch.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I enjoyed a rewarding career as a registered dental hygienist for 40 years. I worked primarily within the Scottsdale area and midway through my career, I was offered a position in Saudi Arabia. It was magical. The diversity of experiencing so many cultures as we worked together, sharing our heritage, our skills, and hobbies with each other was life-changing. I suddenly saw the world rather than only the corner I lived in. I see this period of my life as creating a patchwork quilt, adding each piece to what has shaped me into who I am today. And if I see myself as this quilt, I hope that it is covering those I meet, those I visit for even a short time, with love and joy.

I was blessed to travel the world, have amazing life adventures, and experience well over 50 countries, but I also saw poverty and suffering beyond anything I could imagine. I was not in a position to do a lot at the time, but I did what I could to let those less fortunate know they were seen, they were appreciated, and they were loved. Volunteering with like-minded women led me to find out what my mission would be at home. Once I returned to life in Arizona, I questioned what I would do to help make the lives of others better, how I could bring joy and happiness, and give back to those I crossed paths with throughout the rest of my life. I found it through the hearts of my miniature equines.

We love surprises, fun facts, and unexpected stories. Is there something you can share that might surprise us?
If I won the Mega Lottery, I probably wouldn’t want to grow much bigger. Oh, I’d buy a nice property closer to Scottsdale and the people we serve.

I’d have a real barn, covered arena, and exercise pool… maybe get a few more minis… But I don’t want to grow so large I lose the intimacy of what I do with Tender Little Hearts. There are so many paths one can take in the Equine Therapy and Equine Assisted Services fields. I have found my purpose, and my niche, and I am content and fulfilled.

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Tender Little Hearts

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