Wake County

After raising $1 million, Cary nonprofit that serves struggling teens buys farm

Corral Riding Academy, which raised more than $1 million in three months, now owns the farm the nonprofit had rented since 2008 to help struggling teen girls.

Late last month, Corral closed on its purchase of 11 acres of land off of Kildaire Farm Road in south Cary. Joy Currey, who started the organization, calls it the “million-dollar miracle.”

“I would start by saying it’s because of God’s grace,” Currey said. “But also there are so many folks in our community who want to do something useful for the kids who are hurting. Our girls have experienced abuse, neglect, trauma, and people want to help but they don’t know how. I believe Corral gives people a chance, a tangible way to help.”

Currey had rented part of her father’s 50-acre property for Corral, which features a riding arena, horse stables and a pasture. Participants receive free tutoring, mentoring, vocational training, horseback riding lessons and therapy.

When Currey’s father, a farmer and plant scientist, decided in 2015 to sell the farm, Currey figured she would have to find other space in the Triangle.

“But we realized that this farm has been essential to our success, both because we’re in the heart of Cary and because we’re in a community that supports us,” she said. “Our volunteers are local, and we’re proximate to the kids we serve. We might not be in a low-income neighborhood, but our kids can reach us easily, which isn’t the case for a cheaper farm elsewhere out in the county.”

So Corral launched a fundraising campaign that yielded more than $1 million in donations. One woman who read about the effort in The News & Observer called Currey and said a check for $100,000 would be in the mail the next day.

It was, along with gifts from 859 other donors over the next three months.

Fundraising is critical for Corral. Only 15 percent of its annual budget, or $70,000, comes from government grants, which help pay for services for girls referred by the juvenile justice system.

Some Corral participants have tough family situations or are having a tough time navigating their teenage years. Girls are often overlooked because they tend to “act in” while boys “act out,” Currey said. The goal is to help girls build confidence and achieve stability.

The initiative’s founding principles are drawn from Currey’s Christian faith, as well as from her experience as a horseback rider in her childhood and later as a teacher in struggling schools in Philadelphia and New York.

Horses require people interacting with them to demonstrate a caring, even-keeled nature, Currey said. As partners in therapy, the animals provide a low-stakes environment in which girls from difficult backgrounds can learn some of the social skills and self-control necessary to build relationships with peers, family members and teachers.

“God must have made horses for this work,” Currey said. “(The girls) might have a really unhealthy relationship with a parent or guardian, but with a horse, they can see what it looks like to not be angry and how that changes relationships.”

Each year, the number of girls Corral serves has increased, from 34 in 2011 to 68 in 2016. Currey said she and her team will next consider branching out into other parts of the Triangle.

“We bought a relatively small farm, and our dreams are much bigger than that,” she said. “There are a lot of kids in our community who need this. We hope in the next 10 years to quadruple our capacity by adding farms elsewhere in the area. And this community has proven it’ll support us.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan