TRAVERSE CITY, Mich (Tribune News Service) — Dennis Kuznicki had to fight his initial instinct to duck when a frigid drop of water plunked the back of his neck.
“When you’re leading a horse with a handicapped person on it, you can’t jump, you can’t do anything that would startle the horse,” Kuznicki said.
Vietnam War veteran Kuznicki helps lead horses around Reining Liberty Ranch, a nonprofit that helps veterans and disabled individuals form relationships and ride on horses. Interactions with the nonprofit's seven therapeutic horses can help clients with anything from balance to mental health.
The tranquil farm opened on Silver Pines Road in Grand Traverse County about two and a half years ago, but roof problems plagued the operation. The multi-colored shingled roof leaked, dripped on people, lights and horses, and grew mold. Executive director Becki Bigelow said the problems created an unsafe environment.
Local companies North Bay Produce Inc. and Cherry Central Cooperative Inc. and their employees decided to pitch in and help Bigelow rebuild the roof. Bigelow received initial roof replacement estimates as high as $85,000, but Collier Construction offered to do the work for less than a third of that amount.
"I still am in awe that they did this for us," Bigelow said. "If we didn't have an indoor area, we wouldn't be able to have a safe environment."
Collier crews this week worked to put a new metal roof on the building.
Dustin Collier owns the construction company. He said he knew a veteran who returned from Iraq, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and was helped by his experiences at the ranch. Collier was happy to lend a hand.
"It was a desperate need and it's helping a lot of guys," Collier said. "There's a lot of people that depend on this, and it's getting bigger and bigger."
Bigelow's husband, Dennis, does information technology work for Cherry Central Cooperative and North Bay Produce. Both companies agreed to chip in for the roof, and employees decided to contribute money from their blue jean fund, into which they pay whenever they opt to wear jeans or casual clothing to the office.
Dennis, who also presides over the ranch's board, said the contributions came as a surprise.
"It was absolutely tremendous," Dennis Bigelow said.
Mark Girardin, president of North Bay Produce Inc, said he considers the program important, from a social standpoint.
"Its main focus is the veterans and the PTSD, but there are also side focuses of autism and grieving people in our community. Because of that, we think it's a very good cause to keep supporting," Girardin said.