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MONMOUTH COUNTY, NJ: A piece of HOPE during tough times is something that is so important. We all need something to look forward to and there is something exciting that is galloping towards the near future. What happens when two like-minded individuals come together for a shared dream? Operation HOPE! 

Operation HOPE is a new program coming to Monmouth County to facilitate equine assisted psychotherapy for an innovative way of healing. Operation Hope focuses on providing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy to First Responders and their families. We also serve children, teens and adults with any mental health issues through equine assisted activities and therapies. Our mental health program serves clients with a history of PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, adjustment disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, relationship issues and more. Our peaceful farm is a haven for people seeking a new or different response to depression, anxiety and trauma.

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The ability to build healthy, connected, and attuned relationships with self, others and the natural world is one of the most important skills any person can acquire and can be embodied in multiple ways. Anxiety, depression, trauma and PTSD all share the challenge of disconnection: from self, from other people and/or the community. By engaging with the therapeutic team of a mental health professional, a horse professional and one or more horses, we can impact and improve both the physiology--self-regulation--and the psychology--the patterns of thinking--of our clients, creating lasting change well beyond the therapeutic benefits of simply being with animals.

Why do horses make great co-therapist? 

Horses are majestic and beautiful animals! Once one gets to know a horse, they will soon understand that they are also much more than this. They are sensitive animals, compassionate, intuitive, honest, and each has their own unique personalities (horseinalities). These are just some of the reasons why horses make for great partners in therapy sessions. 

Equine therapy is on the ground (not riding), collaborative, joining the efforts of a licensed clinical mental health professional and a horse professional who work side by side with horses to reach the individuals goals. Horses mirror people’s emotions and this is what makes them so unique. Just the act of petting an animal releases Oxytocin (the feel good hormone) in both the human and horse and this is mutually beneficial. Horses are social in nature, respond to non-verbal communication, and are extremely sensitive, therefore providing immediate feedback.

Some of the benefits of equine assisted therapy results that can be expected include:

•        Increase ability to trust others

•        Decrease stress and anxiety

•        Increase self-acceptance and self confidence/self esteem

•        Gain/utilize grounding techniques

•        Increase feelings of personal safety

•        Build meaningful relationships with equine partners

•        Increase ability to understand boundaries

•        Increase ability to communicate honestly with self and others

•        Teach compassion, empathy, living in the present moment, patience, learning new skills, and being amongst nature

  • Facilitate self-awareness and promote regulation of emotions in a healthy manner

Overall behavioral and emotional improvement:

  • Improvements included the areas of socialization, speech, behavior, problem solving, independence, self esteem and in body awareness.

  • Helps to increase social skills, interpersonal interactions, and increased social interactions

  • Increase of interest in attending school, decrease in social withdrawal, and improved behaviors

How it all began...

Brooke and Sara met in 2017 at an Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) networking event in Mendham, New Jersey. They serendipitously sat at the same table in a room full of people from all over the tri-state area. They quickly realized they both lived in Monmouth County, NJ and decided to exchange information. From there a friendship began and their love of horses and working in the mental health field bonded them, along with their dream of one day starting their own equine therapy program (not to mention their love of country music). Brooke has previous experience working with Military Veterans at an equine therapy program at Serenity Stables in Middletown, NJ, while Sara is married to a retired Police Detective who has experienced the healing power of equine therapy in treating PTSD. Brooke and Sara had the opportunity to continue their education and travel to Lexington, Kentucky for the EAGALA 20th Anniversary Conference, where they bonded with new like minded colleagues. They are so excited to fulfil their dream of helping people as a team with the magic of horses.

Brooke and Sara are now accepting new clients and will start serving their community this summer. At Operation HOPE, our mission is to help first responders and their families in any way possible. We are looking to open our doors to the brave first responders that have been essential during the Covid-19 outbreak as soon as the government stay at home orders are lifted. Please feel free to reach out to us in the meantime so we can assist you in setting up an appointment

They are also looking for donations in order to offer scholarships to first responders. Operation HOPE will also be offering equine assisted team building for corporations, for more information, please contact us by visiting our website at https://operationhopenj.com/ 

Brooke Lichter, LSW, Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning 

Brooke Lichter has had a deep passion for animals her entire life. This passion has led her on many amazing journeys. The first journey began at a young age when she volunteered for the Monmouth County SPCA ,and therapeutic equestrian center. She was later employed by a therapeutic horseback riding center for a period of 5 years. She subsequently left this position in order to pursue an internship with Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.

Brooke is a Licensed Social Worker whom earned both her Master’s and Bachelor’s Social Work degrees from Monmouth University with a concentration in The Clinical Practice with Families and Children.  During her college career, she took courses that included Animal Assisted Therapy, Veterinary Social Work, and Psychology of Animal Training. Also, she is certified through EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) as an Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning.The ability to combine her love of horses with a passion for helping people is what she considers to be a privilege and truly a dream come true.

Sara Velez

LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)

EAGALA Certified Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning 

Sara's educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Miami in International Studies and Spanish. Sara then went on to earn her Masters of Social Work degree from Monmouth University in International and Community Development. She has worked with young adults, individuals, couples and families tailoring her approach to the unique needs of each new client. Sara's passion is working with individuals struggling with mental illness and those in recovery to help them heal from the trauma of addiction. Sara has dedicated her life to helping individuals who suffer from mental illness and from the afflictions of alcoholism and addictions. She decided to incorporate her own personal life journey and begin a course of action to help others heal their lives. When she started Operation H.O.P.E., Sara was able to combine her passion for healing people with her love of horses and incorporating the EAGALA Model of Equine Assisted Development. Her goal is to make people feel at home at the farm and create a unique oasis to experience wonderful growth and healing through psychotherapy with the help of horses.

Contact info: http://operationhopenj.com/ 732-497-8078