Joy O’Neal is a valuable Forge member and the executive director of The Red Barn in Leeds. If you haven’t heard about The Red Barn, children and adults with disabilities can come to their facility to relax and learn with horses! The Red Barn strives to be a place where anyone can be loved and accepted. Joy’s story and life experience is inspiring, and we wanted to share more about her and this organization that has affected so many.

They serve over 100 individuals each week!

Who are your biggest influences? Who inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have so many amazing people to influence my life.  I have a huge, close-knit family that have always set a great example of working hard, helping others, and sticking together. We’re far from a picture-perfect family, but I never doubted that I was loved.
In college, I met Julianne and Billy Phillips, known to everyone as “The P’s.”  They opened their den to young people every night and loved us all unconditionally.  Time in their den changed my life as I struggled through many difficult times as a young adult.   Through the P’s, I met Fr. Frank Wade, a Catholic priest who strengthened my faith and taught me how to incorporate it into every day life.
All five of our children rode horses when they were growing up, so I’ve seen first hand how horses can help children.  I was inspired by Anita Cowart to start a therapeutic riding agency that would help children with disabilities and special circumstances learn to work with horses since there are limited opportunities available to them.

“I see The Red Barn as the combination of the faith, hope and love that I learned from these influences in my life.”

What is your biggest challenge with continuing The Red Barn each day?

Raising the money to keep everything going.  I’m sure this is the case for almost every nonprofit though.  There’s such an incredible demand for our services with a long waiting list for children to participate.  Before we can even think about serving more children, we have to raise the money to serve our existing students.  Almost every day we get a request from a family or organization wanting to receive our services, but we have to just keep adding them to the waiting list because we can’t afford to expand.  And, that makes me feel a lot of pressure because I know how much their lives would be changed if we could just get them in our programs.

What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?

Things that may seem bad or frustrating at the time often can turn out to be okay in the long run.  For example, one year we were going to do a lot of work to our pastures, but the person doing it had to back out at the last minute due to his equipment breaking.  I was so annoyed because I had really wanted to do this project.  Since there was only a limited amount of time to get the work done, we had to postpone the project.  A few weeks later there was a huge storm that would have destroyed the pasture work we had planned to do.  So, in the end, the broken equipment kept us from doing work that would have been ruined by the storm.  At the barn we refer to those types of annoyances as, “pasture rotation frustrations” to remind ourselves that sometimes a disappointment can be a blessing in disguise.

Where and how do you work best?

I can work pretty much anywhere, but I think the right environment helps facilitate the best work.  Obviously, much of what I do needs to be done physically at the barn.  But, sometimes I need a place like Forge where I can be focused because it’s easy for me to get distracted or interrupted at the barn.  I also think a change of scenery helps re-charge my brain.  Plus, it’s much easier to meet folks who work downtown at Forge rather than asking them to drive out to the barn.

Whats the best advice you ever received?

My grandmother had to drop out of school to help care for her family, but she always talked about how grateful she was that she learned to read  because then she could teach herself anything she wanted to know.  She died many years ago, but I can still hear her telling me to read and learn as much as I can.

Thanks to Joy for working so hard to establish this amazing organization and serving so many in need. We love having you as part of the Forge community!