ELKHART — Students from an alternative school finished a service learning project this week to benefit special needs students.

On Wednesday, students from the Merit Learning Center saw their project in place at LoveWay Inc. in Middlebury, where they installed a new sensory trail.

Merit, the alternative high school that services Elkhart County, reached out to Loveway, a therapeutic equestrian center while looking for service learning projects, according to LoveWay Executive Director Eric Pianowski.

“There’s plenty of work to be done out here,” he said. “The sensory trail has to be refreshed every couple of years and this was a good time to do it.”

LoveWay services special needs children with a variety of disabilities, ranging from autism to Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, according to a release from the group.

The sensory trail is used to engage LoveWay students while they are on horseback rides, Pianowski said.

According to Merit instructor Suzanne Juday, students were unsure of what to make of the task at first but soon embraced the creative project.

“Their whole process of breaking down creative barriers and getting past that, that created the trail,” she said. “They seemed very engaged yesterday and they could see the end process and the end goal.”

Juday said the students used all recycled and upcycled items to complete the trail. The students began working on the trail over the winter and installed it on Tuesday.

Juday said that water bottles, metal objects and wood items to make things on the trail such as wind chimes, butterflies and signs.

Merit junior Cyrus Clark said that it felt good to help out the children that use the horse therapy.

“It’s really good for them, it gives them something to see, it’s what they need,” he said. “It makes me feel good, it makes me feel like I’m a success at something.”

The result is something that both Merit students and LoveWay can be proud of.

“I had no idea it was going to be this diverse and grand, the colors, the fact that they used recycled materials, the fact that all the kids chipped in,” Pianowski said. “I never imagined them pulling all this off.”

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What a great story. We need to read about solutions as well as problems.

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