"Look at that," Silverman said, with obvious pride in his voice. "Six months ago he didn't know the front end of the horse from the back end."
Ty's life has improved beyond knowing equine skills since he started living with Silverman and his wife, Patti, in June when the Kent County Juvenile Court granted the Solon Township couple power of attorney and permanent custody of the teen.
And as Ty has already proven, horses and biblical training would work hand-in-hand for other at-risk teens as an alternative Christian school Silverman has named 2nd Chance School.
Ty would not be a student at 2nd Chance School, however, he does fit the profile of the at-risk teens Silverman and his 12-member board, 2nd Chance Corp., hopes to one day open to 30 boys and girls at a time.
The unconventional school would combine biblical lessons and horses with traditional subjects such as math and history. 2nd Chance's intent is to instill character, hard work, humility and unconditional support for one another.
Taking intentional steps
Silverman has taken concerted steps in that direction.
He's entered into a purchase agreement with Calvary Assembly of God to buy the church and its six acres on 17 Mile Road in Solon Township on a land contract agreement for $150,000. The church sets across from Silverman's farm. Silverman has requested a special land use permit from Solon Township, which will be decided on in late March.
Should the purchase be finalized, Silverman would construct a 20,000-square-foot barn and arena area to house 15 horses and teach 30 students at a time.
It's essential for at-risk tens to learn life skills and that's where equine therapy comes in, Silverman said. Teens will learn a work ethic and problem-solving skills and increase teamwork and confidence.
"The horse is a large animal and you have to earn its respect and it teaches that," Silverman said, a meat and potatoes kind of guy who comes across with a "Git Er Done" personality.
"You see horses in the morning and at a certain time of the day, you do the work of cleaning the stalls. It teaches responsibility and along with that, the respect."
Calvary Assembly of God senior pastor Craig T. Owens has already agreed to work as the school's Bible teacher with an emphasis on God giving people second chances.
"I plan to focus on people in the Bible who've made mistakes and what they've learned or didn't learn from those mistakes and the negative consequences on that path," Owens said. "I want to be encouraging because they need to know just because they ended up in this school hasn't changed the total course of their lives. I want to encourage them with what God can still do with their lives."
Although Silverman owns two Quarter Horses, the 18 horses he would need for the school will be loaned to him.
"Getting the horses is the easy part," said Silverman. "A lot of people are wiling loan them to us."
School would be year round
Once 2nd Chance School is operational, 15 teens would work with the horses in the morning while another 15 would receive classroom instruction. Then later in the school day, the students would rotate. The teens would live with their foster or biological parents.
"Our school day would be a little longer," Silverman said. "It would be an hour earlier in the morning and an hour later in the afternoon and it would be a year round school because kids don't stop getting into trouble in the summer."
"We signed a purchase agreement and put a down payment on the church and are now awaiting approval from the township," Silverman said.
Funds primarily would be derived from grants and donations to purchase the building and its land, but the effort is worth it, said 2nd Chance board member Dale Lubahn.
2nd Chance Corp. is planning a May 16 golf tournament fundraiser at Cedar Chase Golf Club, 7551 17th Mile Road NE in Cedar Springs. For more information visit www.2ndchancecorp.org.
"We need a lot of prayer and support," Silverman added. "A lot of these kids never even opened a Bible. We don't want to cram it down their throats but our approach would be to entrust God to these kids."
A foretaste of what's to come
Kids like Ty Sturgis.
Ty has transformed himself into a skilled equestrian. Riding the hoofed animals is fun but he's also learned the responsibility of feeding them twice daily, ensuring they're in the stall during the summer instead of in the blazing sun and taking them out to the pasture at night so they can graze.
"I enjoy being around the horses," Ty said. "I just think they're really cool animals. I enjoy riding them."
And Owens enjoys the transformation he's seen sprout in Ty.
"Before he arrived at the Silvermans, he could hardly look you in the eye let alone carry on a conversation," Owens said. "Now he's more sure of himself and asks great, insightful questions. It's a foretaste of the rest of the students who will be attending 2nd Chance."
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