Dan Maes from the Sunnyside Ranch works with Bob to demonstrate how to create trust with horses. Inner City Slickers aims to help at-risk children by involving them with animals. The program was inspired by the 1991 comedy City Slickers starring Billy Crystal. (Photo by Teresa Stewart)

Dan Maes from the Sunnyside Ranch works with Bob to demonstrate how to create trust with horses.
Inner City Slickers aims to help at-risk children by involving them with animals. The program was inspired by the 1991 comedy City Slickers starring Billy Crystal. (Photo by Teresa Stewart)

Last Saturday morning, Sunnyside Ranch hosted a special opening. The Inner City Slickers program made its way to the ranch as part of its nationwide program. The program aims at helping children by involving them with animals, teaching them positive traits while aiming to break down social prejudices. The program also sees volunteers involved in keeping in contact with its participants long after the program is finished. While the Inner City Slickers program is now at multiple locations, its genesis came from an unlikely source: the 1991 comedy City Slickers starring Billy Crystal.

“I was shooting a commercial that had horses with children in it,” Mike McMeel said. “Every time the horses would come on the set, the kids would just light up. In the movie, you could see the horses did the same thing for Billy Crystal and the gang. The whole idea of the movie was for people to discover things about themselves, to grow and learn.”

McMeel worked with Leota Johnson to help set up the program at the ranch and to help get the word out to the community about a program that is more important than many people realize, McMeel said.

“What is always challenging in doing these openings around the country is getting community involvement,” McMeel said. “Getting folks to wake up to the fact that we are losing our kids. I am not sure folks really get the fact that our kids are in trouble.”

For McMeel, working with the Inner City Slickers Program has seen lives changed for the better…and not just those of the children.

“My whole life has changed and working with kids has done that for me,” McMeel said. “When I see the trust come back in their eyes and the new sense of hope…that gives me hope that this world can get better.”

And he feels that both the children involved at the ranch as well as volunteers who helped run the program will see that and experience it first hand. And McMeel hopes adults realize they don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference in a child’s life in a positive way.

“I want folks to see they make a difference when they show up,” McMeel said. “All one has to do is take a moment to help a child and that child will be changed in some way and we all benefit from that change.”

McMeel said they hope to have the Inner City Slickers program in every major city in the United States within the next five years. But, perhaps more importantly, he hopes that society will continue to value and work to help the country’s and the world’s youth.

“I just hope that one day, this world will value children and see that they are our most important resources,” McMeel said.

For more information about the Inner City Slickers program, please visit www.innercityslickers.com. After a positive opening at Sunnyside Ranch, McMeel said he’s excited about the future of the program. And for people who join the program, either as a volunteer or participant, McMeel is confident that their lives will be changed for the better.

“They will see children being challenged and nurtured,” McMeel said. “They will see lives changing, both with the children and the volunteers. A lot of smiles, maybe some tears. You never know, you just have to hold on and take the ride.”