A group of high school boys and their mothers spent two days last weekend cleaning up around Victory Therapy Center in Roanoke.

Normally this is something the center’s staff would do. But the cleanup work is plentiful and the staff’s time is not.

That’s the beauty of the ultimate gift.

The Young Men’s Service League (YMSL) is a national organization in which teen boys and their mothers team up to do community projects to help those in need. Each year there is a large volunteer project called the ultimate gift in which all members of the chapter participate.

Integrity, a local YMSL chapter based in Flower Mound, chose Victory Therapy Center as its recipient this year after an intensive analysis of local philanthropies.

Ingrid Smith, who is part of YMSL with her son, said factors that are considered include the number of employees the nonprofit has and the amount of support they get.

“They have five employees,” Smith said. “They’re heavily dependent on volunteers.”

Victory Therapy Center uses equine therapy to care for children, adults, veterans, first responders and their families who have a physical disability or an emotional or mental condition. The center provides therapeutic riding and physical therapy services while their clients develop relationships with their horses and instructors.

“They focus on the clients and don’t have time to focus on the day-to-day projects,” Ingrid Smith said. “We wanted to help them by taking on some of these projects.”

So the boys of Integrity, who attend Marcus and Flower Mound high schools, and their mothers rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Tasks included reorganizing the lawn mower area and the tool shed, building shelves for extra space, power washing the buildings and porches and landscaping.

By the end of the project, the facility looked more presentable, and the supplies were more organized.

“The best part was just knowing what the work we were doing was going toward,” said Nicholas Rabehl, a senior at Marcus High School. “We spent time doing all these things so the people who work there could focus on the patients and get them the help they need instead of wasting time organizing everything.”

Students said the end result is gratifying.

“This is hands-on work,” said Gavin McDaniel, a senior at Flower Mound High School. “I like that you can see the results at the end. Sometimes we do work where you don’t really get to see the results. But here, we could see how clean things were in the end. We could see that there were no more weeds.”

But those involved said the benefit went much further than helping out. They said it opened their eyes to how organizations help others.

“Through this experience I’ve learned that there are so many ways to help people,” Rabehl said. “(Equine therapy) is an unorthodox method of providing physical and emotional therapy. I never thought that you can use a horse to make things better. But it’s good for both the mind and the body.”

McDaniel said he was impressed with how Victory Therapy Center helps clients in different ways – from providing a sense of responsibility in taking care of a horse to the healing powers of riding one.

“There’s a girl who goes to Victory, and when she was riding a horse she felt like she was on top of the world,” McDaniel said. “It’s a mental thing. Riding can be so helpful.”

While the ultimate gift is the largest project of the year for YMSL chapters, there are smaller projects throughout the year.

The boys said the projects not only help their community but also strengthen the bond with their mothers.

“Doing these projects with my mom makes it so much better,” Rabehl said. “We’ve gotten closer because of this. We can talk about everything going on. We can have the conversation about how there are people who are less fortunate than we are and talk about the importance of helping others.”

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