Jeanne Greenberg broke ground helping disabled children

Sari was her daughter's name and SARI stands for special ability riding institute.

Today, we take the idea of therapy animals (who aren’t dogs) for granted. But there was a time – say 40 years ago – when that idea was considered novel or not even worth pursuing.

Not so for the late Jeanne Greenberg, who along with her husband Syd, founded SARI in 1978. The riding school for children with disabilities in Arva was inspired by the example of her own late daughter, Sari, an animal lover who was born with Down Syndrome.

Jeanne Greenberg died Wednesday. She was 95.

“She was an early innovator,” said Michelle Baldwin, the executive director of Pillar Nonprofit Network, which honoured Greenberg a decade ago with the organization’s Community Leadership award. Sari was her daughter’s name and SARI stands for special ability riding institute.

“Jeanne saw, first-hand in her daughter Sari, and thousands of special needs-children since, the therapeutic effects of riding horses,” her family said in Greenberg’s death notice.

“It was a pretty innovative idea,” Baldwin said. In 2018, therapy animals outside of canines are commonplace now, but in 1978, Greenberg was swimming against the tide of conventional wisdom.

“Try to imagine telling people that you were going to do that,” said Baldwin.

And when she accepted the award from Pillar, Baldwin remembers Greenberg as a humble person: “I think she did it with such grace, like ‘Really? Should I be the one who’s coming forward?’”

The nomination for Greenberg from Pillar highlighted her “unrelenting energy and drive.”

“Jeanne is a powerful voice for disabled children,” the nomination said. She “inspires all to reach far beyond what you think you can do and to believe in who you are – that you too can make a significant contribution in this world.”

Baldwin’s own visits to the SARI farm made a deep impression on her.

“I think it was the smile on the children that were riding the horses,” Baldwin said of her sharpest memory of the place.

“Sari Greenberg was born with Down Syndrome at a time when children with disabilities were often put in care,” the SARI website says of the facility’s origins. “Instead, Syd and Jeanne embraced the opportunity to bring her home to the farm where SARI currently stands.”

“The vision and compassion of two parents put therapeutic riding on the map. It is now a valuable activity that has changed the lives of many others. The dedication of staff and volunteers makes SARI one of Southwestern Ontario’s most well-respected therapeutic riding organizations,” the website adds.

Greenberg was married to her husband Sydney for 72 years. He died last year.

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