After a fire destroyed their store in August 2015, the owners of Stages West in Pigeon Forge vowed to rebuild. Eleven months later it re-opened with a commitment to continue to serve the community where the store started more than 40 years ago.
Now the store is partnering with a non-profit.
Mane Support in Maryville is a place where horses help humans heal. It has grown to include a dozen horses that interact with people who are grieving.
"An incredible volunteering person has allowed us to have Scout, and he is a micro-mini. He fits in an SUV so he's able to do a lot of things that we normally couldn't do with the other big horses," said Mane Support Founder and Executive Director Kim Henry.
The horses are a critical part of the equine counseling program Henry runs. Now she plans to expand.
"Mane Support is strong and God has brought incredible people to make it sustainable, but hopefully up here we're looking at starting a very small satellite in order to reach Pigeon Forge (and) Gatlinburg but also through the Johnson City area where there are no services," she said.
That's where Stages West comes in. It's a family owned boots and western wear store in Pigeon Forge.
"One thing that we really share with Mane Support is that we both have a heart for outreach so it is like a natural connection," owner Marlene Houser said.
She and Kim are long-time friends who discussed some sort of expansion into Pigeon Forge right before wildfires devastated Gatlinburg.
"It was very interesting to me that Kim came here one week before the fires. So we're like 'This is meant to be,'" Houser said.
Henry agreed, saying, "Her (Houser's) heart is incredible and that is what connects, it's her heart that connects to people who are hurting and always has so it is a way for Stages West to be a ministry in and of itself."
Initial counseling will start in a private room upstairs at Stages West. The idea is to reach out to those grieving after the wildfires.
"Be it those who have no homes any longer or those that have experienced a death because of the fires or even those first responders who have had to see some horrific things and try to make sense of everything now," Henry said.
"I know that a lot of them probably need grief counseling but they may not know that they need grief counseling," Houser said.
The next step would be visiting the horses at the Maryville location or at a place closer to Pigeon Forge. Henry is still searching for that place where people support people with the help of horses.
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