Christmas Swim Gallops on

They were loud, they were laughing, they were eager to show their support – the 2021 Christmas morning swim in support of Helping Hands and Hooves was nothing short of shear fun in spite of cold, dark rain.

            The 2021 event was the 17th year people have financially supported the work done by Julie Craig and her team, work that benefits people with cognitive challenges through experiential activities, namely horseback riding at her farm in Mattapoisett called Sea Horse Farm.

            The pandemic had halted all enriching opportunities that the program offers, but even before the pandemic, outdoor activities were hindered or all together paused due to concerns over Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), the virus transmitted to people by the bites of infected mosquitos.

            “SAILS stopped the riding program because of Triple E, and then the pandemic came,” Craig said of the challenges faced. SAILS stands for Support Services for All Ages and Abilities, a nonprofit that promotes programs and services that provide nonadverse training and holistic educational approaches for those with challenges associated with cognition and behavior.

            Fundraising for Helping Hands and Hooves is a grassroots effort with the annual Christmas swim a major component. Funding allows Helping Hands and Hooves to provide enrichment programs to those who oftentimes have aged out of other programs.

            Families seeking programming for their loved one are hard-pressed to find anything. Enter Craig’s program. Underscoring the need for social opportunities and reinforcement of habits of daily living skills, Pat Goss, whose son Brendan has benefited from Craig’s work said, “There isn’t much for them once they reach a certain age.”

            Standing shoulder to shoulder and diving into the freezing waters at Mattapoisett Town Beach with Craig was Debbie Dyson, her project partner since the beginning of Helping Hands and Hooves.

Dyson had previously told us, “Many (participants) come from group homes where they don’t have a great deal of opportunity to socialize outside that setting.” She said that those coming to the Craig farm are “happy as evidenced by their demeanor and smiles.”

            The program also goes a long way towards building confidence, self-esteem and physical coordination, Craig noted.

            While the rain and gray skies that enveloped the region on Christmas morning might have kept some revealers and swimmers home, 24 tenacious souls did take the plunge. They were longtime volunteer Yvonne Haitsma, Eric and Debbie Dyson, Emily, Dirk and Sarah Murphy, four members of the Craig clan, Sibley Casi, Lucy, Nate and Gray Dyer, Sue and Nate Mitchell, Hayden, John, Jonatt Duke, Jim Stowe, five members of the Kassabian family, Don Cuddy, Donna Smith and last but by no means least, Brendan Goss, who exclaimed, “Oh, that was good!”

            But wait, then there was Kate Butler, who made a dramatic arrival a mere few seconds before the starter blasted the horn. She jumped out of her car, ran at full speed down to the high-tide line, plunging into the water to the hoots and hollers of spectators. Staying in the water long after others had run in and run out, Butler told us, “It’s so refreshing!” She also confessed she swims year-round in local waters and finds it is “good for the soul.”

            To learn more about the programs and funding opportunities available at Helping Hands and Hooves, visit

By Marilou Newell

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