KENNEBUNK, Maine – As the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Sarah Armentrout, co-founder of the Carlisle Academy, anticipated a need. “Our frontline healthcare workers—our healers—are going to themselves need time to heal from the daily trauma they are enduring,” she said. “And you know, our horses like to work. Like everybody else, they want a meaningful occupation.” Founded in 1998 by Sarah and her husband Nick, the Carlisle Academy is a workin arm and center for horse-based therapeutic techniques. For centuries, horses have been used in forms of physical and cognitive therapy and Carlisle typically offers a range of equine-facilitated activities. But in light of the pandemic, their typical season of activity was cancelled. In frequent staff meetings over Zoom, which Sarah noted was a rather uncomfortable fit for their outdoorsy team, they contemplated how to get back to work in a way that would give back to their community.

On August 24th, Carlisle held their first half-day retreat for groups of hospital workers in York County. The retreat featured equine-facilitated leadership activities, herd observation and grooming. The focus was on being present and mindful while forming a connection with the horse in a beautiful and tranquil setting. The retreats are funded by the Carlisle Charitable Foundation through a grant from Kennebunk Savings. Of late the bank has focused their charitable giving on supporting existing nonprofit partners during the pandemic, and newly supporting organizations providing direct relief to populations hit hardest. “Changing times call for changing strategies,” said Bradford C. Paige, the bank’s President and CEO. “These retreats felt like a particularly novel approach to alleviating the trauma our valued healthcare workers have endured this year.” The World Health Organization has reported that healthcare workers are particularly vulnerable to burnout and even Post Traumatic Stress Disoder. Studies of medical professionals in China, Canada and Italy found high rates of anxiety, depression and insomnia among groups who had treated COVID-19 patients. Alynn Schmitt-McManus, a clinical social worker, says many experience “betrayal trauma,” feeling abandoned by superiors and the general public despite the heavy demands of their job. One participant said the retreat served as an important reminder of the need for self-care. “Deep breaths, staying focused, staying centered… they’re important. We all know they’re important, but do we practice it? No. Not enough. Clearly not enough.”

About the Carlisle Academy:
Carlisle Academy has been operating as a Premier Accredited Center of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH, Intl.) for over 20 years, and is a member center of the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA), a founding national center for the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) Para-Equestrian Centers of Excellence, and a designated U.S. Pony Club Riding Center, serving over 275 children and adults each year. Members of the community follow the age and ability continuum representing children as young as age 2 to Veterans, senior citizens and all ages of able-bodied and differently-able children and adults in between. Carlisle’s social mission serves the whole person in community.

About Kennebunk Savings:
With assets of $1.25 billion, Kennebunk Savings is a mutually owned, Maine-chartered community banking institution headquartered in Kennebunk, Maine operating 17 branch offices in York County, Maine and seacoast New Hampshire. Kennebunk Savings contributes 10% of its after-tax earnings back to the nonprofit community each year through its Community Promise program. The total commitment of that program has meant nearly $14 million for nonprofits in the community since 1994.