ESL Jefferson Award winner’s organization adds new dimension to underserved communities

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — News10NBC and ESL Federal Credit Union are proud to partner in recognizing five individuals who have gone above and beyond as winners of the 2021 Jefferson Awards.

Anyone who knows our next ESL Jefferson Award winner knows that he loves horses.

Matthew Doward’s love of horses transcends simply riding and caring for them. Through his program called A Horse’s Friend, Doward has opened up a world of possibilities for thousands of kids from all over the area, many of whom come from disadvantaged or underserved neighborhoods.

“When I saw the ad on News10 for the Jefferson Awards, and when I was hearing their story about who they were looking for in a candidate – dedication, community service, just the passion for what they do, I just thought of Matthew right away,” Jessica Furber, the organization’s volunteer coordinator said.

For more than 16 years, Doward has been putting smiles on kid’s faces by introducing them to the world of horses.

“When horses were introduced to me, my family couldn’t have afforded them, and they never would’ve afforded them,” Doward said. “I was given that opportunity, so we would never turn any kid away who wanted to be around a horse.”

When Doward started “A Horse’s Friend” in 2004, his goal was to provide underserved kids with a safe place to just be a kid.

“The biggest thing is that they get to remove themselves from the fast hustle and bustle of everyday life,” Doward said. “You know, out here, there’s no gunshots, there’s no fast cars, there’s no loud music, and then they get to hang out with an animal that will eventually let them ride them.”

More than 3,000 kids’ lives have been changed thanks to Doward’s passion and dedication for spreading the joy of horses.

“The patience and the expectations he gives them and lets them know you can do this is very helpful for these kids that don’t get that a lot everywhere else,” parent Shauna Clark said.

Doward works with a team of volunteers who say he exemplifies the qualities of a Jefferson Award winner.

“His dedication to this program, the community, the kids, the horses, every day he is here,” Furber said. “He wants every kid that walks through the door of our program, whether they stay or we only see them once, and they leave and move on, he hopes they take something away from this.”

When he’s not at the barn teaching kids about riding and caring for horses, he often brings the horses out into the community so even more people can enjoy them.

Sharing the joy of horses is deeply personal for Doward. Growing up with horses himself, Doward says there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

“I just love what I do,” Doward said. “I think that the kids and the parents that are bringing their kids out here love and enjoy what we’re doing, and we hope to be here for years to come.”

A Horse’s Friend offers several types of horse-related services and programs. A “Kids Come First” Urban Ride is scheduled for May 31. Click here to find out how you can be involved.

Doward has been chosen to represent our area at the National Jefferson Awards.

Learn more about the ESL Jefferson Awards and this year’s honorees here.