The Franklin Rodeo is cowboys and cowgirls, horses and bulls, the creak of leather and the jingle of spurs. It’s three days of family fun and tradition.
But it’s so much more than that.
The rodeo, a project of the Franklin Noon Rotary Club, is a fundraiser for area charities and non-profits, and over its 67 year history, has given more than $2 million to those charities.
Last year, three organizations that focus on children were recipients of rodeo proceeds.
The Gentry Education Center, High Hopes, and Tucker’s House, all of Williamson County, received funding for their endeavors.
Gentry’s Education Center, founded and directed by Evelyn Hickerson, works to increase children’s academic achievement and enrich their lives through tutoring and other opportunities.
Certified teachers and volunteers provide services to children from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, four to five days a week after school. Students enrolled in the Center gain at least a year and a half increase in reading and math skills. Funds from the rodeo have helped the Gentry Center offer scholarships to more students.
Many of the Gentry students come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods; Hickerson knows what she’s doing. “I am from the neighborhood I’m serving,” she said. “I grew up poor and never knew I was poor. I had supportive parents, and so many of these children may not have that advantage.” Last year, Gentry served 300 children.
High Hopes, another recipient of Franklin Rodeo funding, provides pediatric therapy and a preschool for children with and without special needs. Children from birth through age 21 can receive physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapy, at the High Hopes location or in the home, for the youngest patients whose immune systems may not be built up.
The Rotary helped fund a feeding treatment room for High Hopes and helps with scholarships for preschool students. The preschool serves children from six weeks to pre-kindergarten, which makes High Hopes unique, said Jessica Mizell, executive assistant and volunteer coordinator. The students “are all learning together. That’s the culture, the beauty of High Hopes. The kids don’t see the difference (between them) and everyone is treated the same way.” Last year, High Hopes served 600 children and made over 18,000 therapy visits. Over 100 children attend High Hopes preschool; another 100 are on the waiting list to attend.
Another child-focused charity benefiting from Franklin Rodeo funding is Tucker’s House. Founded by Sunny Rosanbalm, an architectural designer and grandmother of a child with special needs, the organization helps make the homes of children with disabilities safer and more accessible.
Rosanbalm and her team, which includes a pediatric physical therapist, will assess a house and diagnose the changes that need to be made to make the house a better fit for children with special needs. If families can’t afford the modifications, Tucker’s House covers the cost.
House modifications might include wheelchair access, showers with no curbs so shower chairs can be rolled in, floors without carpeting (so wheelchairs roll easier), and even lift systems. Tucker’s House staff looks years down the road, envisioning what the child might need as his or her needs change. Modifications to the house benefit not only the child but the parent and caretaker as well. “We are thinking of parents, too,” Rosanbalm said. “They are lifting and transferring children about 5,000 times a year.”
The Franklin Rodeo benefits many organizations each year, and each group is grateful. “We love the Rotary,” said Rosanbalm. “They’re wonderful, wonderful people.” Funds raised through the rodeo make the lives of Tennesseans better. “We’re so grateful for the money they’ve given us,” said Mizell with High Hopes, “because it’s helped so many children progress in their journey.”
Be part of the Franklin Rodeo and give back to the community! The Franklin Rodeo is May 18-20 at the Williamson Co. Ag Expo Park. It begins at 7 pm each night. Tickets are $10 for children ages 12 and under and $20 for adults; all seats are reserved. Tickets can be purchased online at FranklinRodeo.com or at the gate. For more information, visit the rodeo’s website, call 615-RODEO-11 or find the rodeo on Facebook.