LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The purchase in 2011 of a 23-acre farm with three barns, two riding arenas, an administrative and therapy building, a caretaker's cottage and horse paddocks at a cost of $750,000, saddled the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy with a $600,000 mortgage.
"It's one of those things where our goal is to pay it off in five years. Being the optimist that I am, I believe we will reach that goal. Someone is going to see SMART and they're going to see what it does for so many people, and they're going to sit down and write a check to help pay off the mortgage. I truly believe it will happen," Nick Brizos, SMART president, said.
That's one of the incentives for SMART's upcoming fundraiser, the 2013 Carnival Interactive Dinner and Fete at Polo Grill and Lakewood Ranch Feb. 22.
When Gail Clifton, SMART volunteer executive director, originally saw the land at 4800 County Road 675, it "screamed riding program," she said.
Clifton wanted to make sure SMART had a safe facility in an environment that met the needs of riders and families. In its 26th year of operation, SMART grew from serving 98 clients in 2007 to 348 individuals last year.
After donations from Andrea Frank and the late Albie Frank of Sarasota, plus an anonymous donor, SMART obtained $600,000 to buy the property through Second Chance Foundation in Naples, according to Brizos.
The strength of volunteers and Clifton's leadership were reasons Bruce Conley, a founder of Second Chance, along with the late Lloyd Taylor, both of Naples, funded SMART.
"I believe in their mission. We've got disabilities in our family, so I understand what it's about. The typical things I look for are good and energetic leaders," Conley said.
"They haven't missed any payments. They have personal goals of paying the mortgage off faster. There's always startup costs they don't anticipate with new facilities, said Conley, who with his wife, Peaches, plans to continue his support of SMART by attending the 2013 Carnival Interactive Dinner and Fete.
Silent and live auctions will also benefit SMART at the themed evening.
To purchase tickets for the fundraiser, tables or sponsorships, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-322-2000.
Tickets cost $125 per person for the event with chef Tommy Klauber, which includes a full bar, theme cocktails, a three-course dinner with wine and an apron for each, and recipes for each dish.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024.