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Anniversary gift of giving
Baudville employees spend 1,400 hours planning, building a riding trail for Equest Center.
Traditionally, a 30th anniversary is a time to give diamonds. For a business, it’s time to break out the champagne. But recently, Baudville, a Grand Rapids-based employee recognition company, outdid both of those options.
In celebration of the company’s 30 years, Baudville, which was recently honored by the Michigan Business and Professional Association as one of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For, cut the ribbon Oct. 16 on a major donation project into which its employees had put a year’s worth of planning and work.
What that year’s worth of energy created was a mile-long therapeutic-riding trail on the 34-plus-acre site of the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding, 3777 Rector Ave. NE, Rockford. The trail contains 12 sensory stations, allowing riders with special needs to engage in muscular activities or “therapy disguised as fun,” said Brad Darooge, president and CEO of Baudville.
Approximately 100 employees — 80 percent of Baudville’s staff — spent about 1,400 volunteer hours over the past nine months constructing the trail, Darooge said, adding that the cost this gift saved the Equest Center is a number probably north of six figures.
“We had two criteria: It had to be an opportunity to impact children in West Michigan, and something our employees could actually get involved in,” he said. “We didn’t just want to write a check.”
The charitable anniversary celebration allowed Darooge’s business to create teambuilding opportunities and make connections with the community, he said. Plus, the project taught Baudville staff how a small company can have a significant impact, he said.
“Culturally for us, it’s been a huge win for how people feel about the place that they work for,” he said. “Some people want (the opportunity to give back to their community), but don’t have the time, the money or resources. When the organization they work for gives them the opportunity to do so, it pays back in spades for how people feel about where they work and who they work with.”
Baudville’s project was hailed as “phenomenal” by the Equest Center, especially by Jeff Agar, a volunteer on the center’s governing board of directors. The center, which has 32 donated horses, a staff of 13 — 11 of whom are volunteers — and more than 100 riders per week, is now able to offer more services to children, he said.
“There was a little girl who came here out of a horrible, sexual abuse situation. She had, apparently, not smiled in a couple of years. Then she came out here,” he said. “One day her mother was just weeping. She said, ‘I haven’t seen my daughter smile in two years until she came here.’ And the kid was with the horse, safe, just loved it, and took on a totally different personality.”
Agar understands firsthand what it feels like to be a parent with a child in equine therapy. His 19-year-old son Johnny has cerebral palsy and has been riding at the center since he was 4.
“It definitely helps with my balance and posture. It allows me to relax my legs a little bit more, which makes my muscles less stiff, making it easier to walk,” Johnny Agar said. “(What Baudville did) is tremendous because it allows Equest to broaden the way they can help kids. People love going out on trail rides. It’s a lot of fun.”
Only minutes after the ribbon was cut on the trail Wednesday evening, Johnny Agar, grinning from ear to ear, was one of the first riders out on the trail, sitting tall on a mount led by his father. He wouldn’t have been there had it not been for a business that wanted to do something more than pop a bottle of champagne on its 30th anniversary.