Mission is the place where your passion and the needs of the world meet. Donita Wiebe-Neufeld’s passion for horses led her to participate in a unique fundraiser for Mennonite Central Committee.
The Edmonton resident has undertaken a fundraising project called “Faces with Ace” as part of MCC’s annual Go! 100 campaign, which invites participants to come up with creative ways of collecting donations for the relief organization.
Wiebe-Neufeld is inviting people to take a photo with her horse, Ace, in exchange for a donation to MCC. Her goal is to take 100 of these photos. Ace is a horse with a personality, which makes the photos fun. According to Wiebe-Neufeld, he knows how to smile, hug and play fetch.
“I always say he’s the horse version of a labrador,” she says with a laugh.
The campaign runs until mid-September, but Wiebe-Neufeld and Ace have already raised more than $5,000. It’s been wonderful seeing people from her different social circles get excited about the project, she says.
“Lots of donors have come from people at the stable where I keep my horse, many of whom haven’t heard of MCC,” Wiebe-Neufeld says. “Family and friends and my church community (First Mennonite Church) have been so supportive of this.”
Horses are a lifelong passion for Wiebe-Neufeld, who grew up on a farm near Didsbury, Alberta. Starting at age 12, she taught herself a range of equestrian skills.
Working with horses is something akin to a spiritual discipline for Wiebe-Neufeld, who works at MCC Alberta as church engagement coordinator.
“For me, it’s about the relationship between me and my horse,” she says. “It’s about paying attention. It’s about learning how to understand each other, build a partnership with that animal. I love training horses because it gets me out of my head; emotionally and spiritually, you can’t think of anything else when you’re working with a horse. A horse is 1,000 pounds of panic. And horses mirror a person, so you have to control yourself, so your horse feels trust.”
MCC launched its Go! 100 fundraiser in 2020 in response to COVID-19, which halted in-person gatherings. That included MCC Alberta’s annual relief sale, which has been a significant way for MCC to raise funds and connect with constituents.
Go! 100 participants are encouraged to do 100 of something, such as run 100 km, and invite friends and family to sponsor them. The money is donated to MCC’s relief efforts.
For her Go! 100 projects in 2020 and 2021, Wiebe-Neufeld invited people to sponsor her as she drove a horse-drawn cart 100 km. “It’s not an understatement to say that my horse kept me sane during COVID,” she says.
In 2022, Wiebe-Neufeld gathered sponsors as she wrote a book of short stories about her experiences with the seven horses she has had throughout her life. That was also the year that she welcomed a new “baby horse,” two-year-old Ace, into her life.
One of the biggest benefits of Go! 100 is that it’s a peer-to-peer fundraiser, Wiebe-Neufeld says. Even if people aren’t familiar with MCC, they are likely familiar with the idea of sponsoring someone who is raising funds for a charity. This form of fundraising has been a great way to welcome more people into the MCC constituency.
“Mennonites tend to do so many inside events … that other people don’t get it,” Wiebe-Neufeld says. “This kind of thing is the language they know. I say I’m raising money for relief and development around the world, and they can ask questions and find where to look us up online.”
As “Faces with Ace” winds down, Wiebe-Neufeld is already thinking about what she and Ace can do together next year. Whatever she decides, she feels hopeful that her future mission in life will include horses and helping others.
“As I look forward to retirement—I’m 56 now—I want to find a place to volunteer to use my love for horses and pastoral experience to help people,” Wiebe-Neufeld says. “The most important thing for me is the why. People need help. In the name of Christ, that’s what we’re called to do. This work is about combining your passions, and for me that’s helping people and sharing my horse.”