Shannen Johnson, a long-time eventer in Maryland, has found a unique way to combine her passion for horses with helping veterans in need.
“I’ve always wanted to do something to help veterans,” Shannen, 26, says. When she became a radiologist technician at Walter Reed National Military Center, she worked hands-on with many veterans on a daily basis and, “it became very clear to me that I needed to do something.”
Jump for Our Heroes
Inspiration came to Shannen two years ago when she met Cindy McGrew, the President and founder of Operation Second Chance, a local nonprofit committed to helping veterans and their families. “As soon as I met Cindy, I knew she was an amazing woman who worked wonders for the veterans,” said Shannen. “Cindy and her organization are there every step of the way to help out the wounded, ill and injured veterans.”
While seeing first-hand all the life-changing work that Cindy and her staff did for veterans, Shannen knew that this was the type of organization that she’d love to help out. After some brainstorming, Shannen and her family decided to host a fundraiser show at their farm in Woodbine, Maryland to help raise funds for the non-profit. They dubbed the event Jump for Our Heroes.
The show, which featured low-level jumper classes, debuted on Veteran’s Day 2017 (a fitting tribute) and was a huge hit with the local community. It raised $7,690 for Operation Second Chance, thanks in part to entry fees and a silent auction with items and services donated from nearby businesses.
After the success of the first show, Shannen and her family immediately set the date for the next year’s event and got to work. Amazingly, this year once again during the Veterans’ Day weekend they raised a whopping $10,013 for OSC. “This is all made possible by our monetary sponsors, our silent auction donors and the participants in the show! It truly takes an army to run an event, and I am blessed to have so much help.”
A variety of local riders came support the family and OSC. “The main goal was a safe, low-key jumper show,” said Shannen. “I wanted to welcome any age and any level rider. We offered poles on the ground up to 3’6. It was awesome to see some of the younger kids getting involved that just could walk, or even be held on, up to the more experienced jumpers. This year, we had a few very special riders. We actually had a few wounded veterans that came to compete!”
Shannen and her family wanted to make the show a fun experience for everyone in the community, so this year they offered other attractions which included a wide variety of vendors and artisans and had local musicians perform.
A Family Affair
Even with working full-time at the hospital, helping to manage her family’s farm and home-based store Oak Spring Bling, and planning her own wedding at the farm on October 13th, Shannen worked tirelessly to make the show a success.
“Some days I wondered how everything would get done. But it all came together with the help of my family! My entire family and husband were a huge help. I couldn’t have done it without them. From my mom and aunt taking charge of the entry booth, to my dad doing ticket sales at the gate for the concert, to my husband helping wherever he was needed.”
Local businesses donated products and services for the on-site silent auction. “Almost every single company I reached out to was willing to donate items or a gift certificate. It’s crazy how many companies are willing to help out if you just take the time to ask. Our local stores and restaurants have also been a huge help.”
Labor of Love
After having ridden for close to 20 years, mainly in eventing, Pony Club and 4-H, Shannen has had to put riding on hold due to serious health issues over the past four years. “I am unable to ride at all due to nerve damage in my pelvis. It is heartbreaking, as riding is my one true love. But my Connemara pony, Kemp, is a lifesaver and is willing to give me a random 10-minute ride every six months or so.”
“Shannen has a tremendous work ethic and puts her heart and soul into everything she tackles,” said her mother Barb Sullivan. “She finds joy in giving back to others, especially our active military and our veterans. The huge success of this year's show is even more amazing considering Shannen planned her own wedding held here on our farm just one month earlier. When she's on a mission, there's no stopping her. We're mighty proud of Shannen!”
Shannen is thrilled about her partnership with the OSC, which was recently voted the number-one organization in Maryland to donate to. “They are a huge supporter of Jump For Our Heroes and I couldn’t have done this without all of their support. They were amazed the first year, because no one, including me, knew how the turnout was going to be. And this year, Cindy was just blown away and speechless.”
Shannen and her family are already making plans for next year’s show, which is slated for November 9. Donations start pouring in by early 2019, so if you’re interested in supporting the event and OSC, contact Jump for Our Heroes.