She fixes broken children and broken horses.
To do that, she fixed up a storage area that became a welcoming sanctuary.
Michele Allison, of Davenport, is committed to helping children who have experienced trauma and loss in their lives. Nominated as Quad-Citizen of the Year by Nancy Reed, Allison is the proprietor of the horses and program at Juan Diez Rancheros, Davenport.
Allison and 10 horses, all rescued from abuse or neglect, help children who do not respond to traditional forms of therapy.
"She has dedicated her life to helping these kids find some peace and become productive members of our community," said Reed, who nominated Allison for the award. "Michele works with several local agencies and the school system. The services are free of charge and Juan Diez Rancheros operates on grants and donations,” said Reed, who is so impressed with Allison and the operation she became a member of the organization's board of directors.
Reed became acquainted with Allison when she volunteered at the ranch through a group volunteer initiative, then began to volunteer at the facility in the Fejervary Park area.
“We got to be friends,” Reed said. “I was always really, really impressed with the work that she does.
“Michele observes how the horses behave with the kids. That gives her insight into what’s going on with the child’s thoughts and feelings.”
Although the sessions with the young people and the horses are private, Reed and the other board members hear success stories at board meetings and have spoken to young people who have been part of the program.
“I did meet one girl in particular," Reed recalls. "She told me she was angry, and getting in trouble at school. The girl talked about how her experience had changed her.”
“It’s a calling to Michele, to help these kids,” Reed said.
Allison agrees. From the get-go, she wants her clients to feel safe. They do when they walk into the office, which is filled with horse-related and Western accessories to pictures, in a quiet setting that’s perfect for conversation and seems miles, instead of blocks, away from the bustle of the city.
“They come from chaos,” Allison said. “It’s the environment they’re coming out of. A lot of these kids have never been to the country.”
Their guard comes down when they enter the property, said Allison, who is in her 10th year of providing this kind of therapy.
Her clients, who often come from schools or other settings such as Family Resources, arrive after standard counseling doesn’t work for them.
The science behind faith-based equine-assisted philosophy is that the horses, which are prey animals, have a non-verbal reflective communication with clients. The philosophy is based on an approach that gently exposes and eliminates unhealthy thought patterns and replaces them with healthy ones.
Allison's 10 horses, like the children, have endured some kind of trauma, said Allison. “I understand the nature of how horses communicate,” she said.
Ten years ago when Allison, a former marketing director, felt called to do this kind of work, she had no land. “The Davenport Park and Recreation Department allows me to use the space as an independent contractor,” she said.
Interactions between the children and horses are in an indoor arena. “My most important breakthroughs happen in that arena,” she said. "Some major magic happens.”
Her clients are young people affected by some kind of emotional trauma — divorce, loss or bullying, for example — and they're typically not being helped by traditional counseling.
“I want the worst of the worst, the ones everyone is giving up on,” Allison said.
Because she is sensitive to the horses’ body language, she can interpret ways to encourage new beliefs and confidence in the children’s interactions with the horses on the ground. It is not a riding program.
Kids learn boundaries and leadership in the 45-minute sessions, she said. Clients can come for up to five visits. “If we aren’t having a breakthrough after five times, this is not the modality for them,” she said.
Allison encourages journal writing for constant review of her clients’ new skills they have learned through the sessions.
“If I don’t help these kids, everyone’s life is going to be impacted,” she said. One girl came back to thank her, and to tell Allison her life is different: She is living on her own and holding down a job. “Consequently the community is better,” Allison said.
“These horses are my assistants in breaking through a wall that has the children captive.”
Allison is among several finalists for the Quad-Citizen of the Year Award. The Quad-City Times and IHMVCU created the award to recognize people creating positive change in the Quad-City region.