By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member
October 26, 2023
A Speaker and a Mission
On Tuesday the 24th, in the midst of the cold, October weather that is finally striking Central PA, a man with a mission came to our door, ready to tell his family's story.
Jon Mattis, owner and operator of Graceful Acres in Halifax, spoke with great passion about his career running an Equine Assisted Therapy Program. Graceful Acres opened in 2012 and started with only 11 riders (6 of whom are still with the organization. The goal of the program was (and still is) to serve those with extraordinary needs like autism, Down Syndrome, drug addictions, anger issues, or victims of sexual assault by allowing them to work with and ride horses as an avenue of therapy and personal growth. Today, Graceful Acres has 150 riders and works across 5 counties.
Mattis learned the value of hard work and grew a love for farm life starting from a young age. Starting at age 13, he worked at Lake Tobias Wildlife Park before being inspired to move closer to horses and training by the book "The Horse Boy" by Rupert Isaacson. He remembered "practicing" with horses for retirement homes at his grandfather's house.
"It's a dream that became reality," said Mattis.
He went to college for Criminal Justice, hoping to be a parole officer or other law enforcer who dealt with troubled youth, but as he started dealing with them through school programs, he realized it was not the path for him...but the passion remained.
He eventually began working with youth on the Autism Spectrum and learned how to interact with and help those with various problems, eventually tying it back to his roots on the farm. He then realized that he could share with others the peace and love he found in riding horses and working at a farm in the countryside.
Trials and Success
Throughout Jon's time working with individuals and horses alike, the road has not always been clear of obstacles.
Mattis spoke of their new barn, which started construction in October 2019. Only a short time later on January 17, 2020, while still under construction, the structure collapsed due to straight-line storm winds that forced more repairs to be made by the family. Due to coronavirus issues and the changing economy, costs for necessary materials skyrocketed, adding extraordinary needs in the cost of repairs.
Nonetheless, Jon, his family and their hard-working volunteers persevered through even the toughest of times, and saw great success from their faith and their labors. Recently, Graceful Acres was nominated for the National Jefferson Award in Washington D.C. The award is given to any private citizen who plays a vital role in serving others and whose achievements are exceptional.
"Consistency is the key to success," Mattis stated when discussing his family and their work for those in need.
Furthermore, it is the hope of Mattis to continue working with children and individuals in need, eventually growing Graceful Acres into a farm where children with mental challenges can find work, giving more back to their community.
Jon Mattis speaks about Graceful Acres as attendees happily look on. Photographs by Dylan Bowman.
Turnout and Aftermath
The turnout for the October program was a success, the energy of those present outperforming the number of attendees (approximately 24). From Mattis's speech, many of the visitors were interested in engaging with him both during and after his presentation, wishing to learn more about the farm, horses and the establishment's community mission.
By the sounds of it, many were willing to donate to and help spread word of the great cause that Graceful Acres aims to serve. For more information on Graceful Acres, its mission or to donate, visit their website here.
For information on upcoming presentations and happenings at the Society, visit our Events page and sign up for our email list at the bottom of this page. There is much more coming your way!
Halifaxians enjoy some fellowship and refreshments with speaker, Jon Mattis, and one another. Photographs by Dylan Bowman.