Tiny hooves click across the tile floor as Dolly, Mazy and Buddy arrive for their monthly visit to the Fountain Hills library. Guests hear the sound and smiles appear on the faces of those eagerly awaiting their arrival. The first name is called on the signup sheet and Mini Tales is in session.
Terry Holmes-Stecyk is the founder of Tender Little Hearts Mini Tales, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Scottsdale. Holmes-Stecyk was inspired by her previous volunteer activities with miniature horse organizations and rescues, organizing this miniature horse outreach to enrich the lives of children and adults.
“The Tender Little Hearts Mini Tales program strives to promote literacy and offers reading opportunities for children of all ages,” Holmes-Stecyk said. “They offer a safe, empowering environment to spur on literacy growth and encourage reading. This unique experience is intended to build confidence in young readers because after all, a miniature horse or donkey isn't going to pass any judgement but will simply listen."
Holmes-Stecyk said reading a book aloud with a child stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world.
“It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word,” she added.
She believes it is important for families to read aloud together, even after children learn to read by themselves.
Mini Tales also visits elementary schools, where they discuss the importance of learning to read and invite children to read a story to the mini equines. They are often special guests at independent bookstores where lines of children wait their turn to read to these darling horses.
Mini Tales meets at Fountain Hills Library on the fourth Thursday of each month from 4 to 5 p.m. Signups are found at the library website at mcldaz.org.
When Dolly, Mazy and Buddy are not at the library, they put on their assisted equine therapy vests and visit the memory care and assisted living residents of Fountain View Village.
“They make unique connections with people,” Holmes-Stecyk said. “Whether it’s the energy they feel or just their desire to spread as much love to a person in need is inspiring. The smiles and joy they bring are magical.”
Mini Tales offers virtual options, including a “Read to a Mini” video as well as a selection of online recorded books that parents and children can access.
“My hope is any of our Mini Tales activities will inspire a child and cultivate a lifelong love of reading,” Holmes-Stecyk said. “If we can instill a love of reading at an early age, then a commitment to lifelong learning is sure to follow.”
To learn more, visit the Tender Little Hearts Mini Tales website at tenderlittlehearts.org, or send an email to TenderLittleHeartsAZ@gmail.com.
Those interested can also follow Tender Little Hearts Mini Tales and Assisted Equine Service on Facebook or Instagram.