The present is where the past flows into the future —Author unknown to me
I have always wanted to time travel, to go back in time and walk on the ground as it was at a particular moment in time. I think I got that chance when I visited Hagemann Ranch in 2010.
It was my goddaughter Katie who inspired me to visit. Diagnosed at two with Autism with a speech delay, she said her first words on a horse at four as part of Hoofprints on the Heart’s pilot equine therapy project.
I thought I would have to drive five-miles out Mines Road to find Hoofprints on the Heart at Hagemann Ranch. Instead within two lefts and a few stoplights from my home in downtown Livermore, there it was, surrounded by a suburban neighborhood—what Livermore most likely looked like at the end of the nineteenth century. Original farmhouse, blacksmith shop, building that was Livermore High’s original gymnasium among others.
It must have been what it felt like as well—a quiet, slow pace that belonged to an era that predated airplanes, telephones, automobiles, not to mention the Internet.
The City of Livermore had purchased Hagemann Ranch with a $1.8 million dollar loan from HUD, and signed a Regulatory Agreement with Hoofprints on the Heart to lease it to them for 50 years for $200.00 per month. In exchange, Hoofprints would provide adaptive riding services to low-income residents, and care for, restore, and preserve Hagemann Ranch.
Barbara Soules, one of Hoofprints’ founders and the volunteer executive director, gave me a tour of the facility, introduced me to the horses and therapeutic riding. I had read that “Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of throwing their hearts over the fence so their horse jumps after it.” It looked to me that with therapeutic riding, the horse carries the rider’s heart in its own, a deep healing connection between wounded human and powerful animal. I suspect the healing goes both ways.
In addition to therapeutic riding for children and adults with neurological and physical disabilities, Hoofprints on the Heart was completing an agreement with the Livermore VA to provide equine therapy for veterans. The Livermore VA treats veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There had been an internal request within the VA for proposals for equine programs. The Livermore VA had requested $12,000 for 20 vets to receive the therapy at Hoofprints on the Heart. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in February 2011.
They also had a community garden that would be a revenue stream. An historic one-room schoolhouse was scheduled to be moved to the site. Third graders would tour the site to learn about Livermore heritage as part of the curriculum for learning about local history.
This was a story: Livermore’s heritage being used to teach us in present day how and why our heritage mattered, and how we could continue it into the future. Several months later, two board members conducted a hostile takeover of Hoofprints on the Heart—one lived in Marin County (sixty miles north west of Livermore) , the other in Contra Costa County (adjacent to Livermore’s Alameda County). It was clear that they had waited for Barbara Soules to finalize the agreement to make their move.
Claiming that they had the support of City staff for the takeover, they removed Barbara Soules as executive director because she was an “entry-level” ED and they needed someone with more sophisticated experience. They also voted her off the Board, then banned her from the property.
Without available funds, they hired an executive director who had no experiences with horses, no experience with the disability community, no experience as an executive director, and no experience with California non-profits. Her closest previous experience was with the city of Calgary in Canada.
I was at the meeting where the insurgent board took over. I have rarely seen such vitriol. Several others were at the meeting as well. We protested that they were not following their bylaws (they weren’t). The new Board president wrote a letter to the City staff referring to us as a loud-mouthed rowdy crowd.
I don’t like bullies. That is what the two board members who hijacked the organization and the historic site were.
Livermore’s mayor has excused this by saying that sometimes a hostile takeover has long term benefits.
But, within seven months, rumors began swirling that Hoofprints was out of funds and would have to close its doors. They stopped paying the executive director. They received funds that were originally said to be donated for a covered arena—then later said to be for operating expenses. So they were able to operate on bare bones for a few more months.
Eighteen months later, this insurgent board has driven Hoofprints on the Heart to near insolvency, put the historic site at risk, fired the caretaker, and killed the story.
In addition to cancelling the veteran’s program, they have plowed under the community garden—the only “improvement” to the property is a very expensive archway to an uncovered arena that is dedicated to a suicide victim from Nevada. They have no scholarship funds, so it is questionable whether they are serving low income as required by the HUD loan used to purchase the property. The grounds have deteriorated, it is not clear whether they have paid insurance or for the alarm systems, and it does not appear that they have 24/7 management of the facility. If a fire broke out, the historic home would be destroyed in minutes. One doesn’t even want to think of what would happen to the horses if their building caught on fire.
Their only employee is the program director who provides lessons.
In late August of this year, I wrote a letter to the local newspaper expressing my concern. It was countered with a letter from the board that addressed accusations that had never been made, and that resorted to name calling (the person writing the letter had previously referred to me as a loud mouthed woman – which of course I am, but I don’t think he thought it was a compliment). In September Cynthia Patton (Katie’s mother) and I went before the City Council to express our concerns. The Mayor asked a member of the city staff to respond, which he did with misinformation.
At the next City Council meeting, Hoofprints’ board members appeared before the City Council and introduced bald-faced lies that our Mayor and city staff sadly perpetuated. They claimed that they had turned the organization around and were struggling because of my letter, sent to the editor just a few weeks earlier. They admitted that they had lost all funders and didn’t understand why.
We requested a public records search. One of the documents returned was the Regulatory Agreement the City signed with Hoofprints. After reviewing all the documents, we realized that Hoofprints on the Heart was out of compliance with virtually all requirements.
We produced a four-page list of due diligence questions we wanted the City to ask Hoofprints. Three weeks later, another City staff member asked for a meeting to get him up to speed on what we wanted. We want a thriving, community-based organization that provides therapeutic equine services to people with disabilities, with at least 50% of its clients identified as low income, we said. We also wanted a veterans program. And we wanted a board that reflected the community served at Hageman Ranch. Fat chance, he replied.
Whatever his reason for meeting with us, the purpose was clearly not to listen to our concerns. He dismissed the Regulatory Agreement as just a kind of informal document that the City could willy-nilly decide whether or not it wanted to enforce. When I asked if there was concern about losing the HUD loan, he said that would be no problem, that all the City cared about was the land. I asked if he cared whether veterans or my goddaughter were served, he said no, but he appreciated my passion.
I don’t know what his agenda was, but it is clearly not the best interest of Livermore’s constituents.
I think this sad tale resonates beyond Livermore.
The story got killed because the heart of the organization got torn out of it. The insurgent board acted with hubris, and defaulted to defamation and finger pointing when their incompetence began taking the organization down.
Why the City is not concerned about this is another story – a perplexing one. For not only do they seem not concerned, they seem to be enabling this organization, even though they know it has lied to them.
The property was purchased with a $1.8 million dollar loan from HUD. City staff claim that it is being repaid with federal funds. That means the taxpayers who are paying for this travesty extend beyond Livermore’s borders.
Perhaps the most painful part of this for me was watching the story die.
As a writer, I need to get out of the way of the story. It needs to be wrapped in compassion for being human. My ego needs to step aside so the compassionate truth can emerge.
In his Nobel speech Faulkner says the writer must leave:
…no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.”
We need to restore the story to Hagemann Ranch. We must allow the past that flows through our present create a future that takes care of the most vulnerable among us. We must throw our hearts over the fence and follow after it.
If this concerns you please go Hagemann Ranch and Hoofprints on the Heart Have been Hijacked on Facebook and Like the page. Cynthia or I will be updating it regularly.
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