Volunteer of the Month: Annie Topete


Pacific Western Bank in Santa Barbara

This monthly series is made possible by Pacific Western Bank

Volunteers often go under-recognized even though they are extremely important to the athletic community.

So important that many of the sporting events and organizations key to our lives wouldn’t be possible without those who donate their time to assist others.

Presidio Sports and Pacific Western Bank have joined forces to change that. This new monthly spotlight series is our way of thanking those that selflessly give themselves for the benefit of many.

To all volunteers making a difference, we salute you.


Annie Topete

Annie Topete is Presidio Sports’ Volunteer of the Month. (Randy Weiss Photos)

It was ?a wild ride,? so to speak, that first brought her to Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian?Center ?.

Four years later, Annie Topete is the consummate volunteer — leader of their Pony Pals Program ? a group of passionate volunteers who help with ?on the ground training and?care? for Hearts stable of horses and maintain the riding facilities, along with welcoming new volunteers — she also does the very necessary daily (and evening) cleaning of the stalls … and she contributes, at least, five hours (or more) of whatever it-takes, very hands-on support here nearly every day ? and she is often the ?Go-To? liaison for parents and caretakers whose children and families benefit from Hearts services because of her ?unique perspective? …

For this total dedication to Hearts, Topete, 56, has been named as Presidio Sports Volunteer of the Month.

And about that ?unique perspective? ?

?The bond between a horse and rider has the potential to be transformative, allowing the rider to seemingly conquer the impossible. At Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center, the power of this relationship is harnessed to heal and enhance the capabilities of children and adults with special needs. Serving 80 riders a week, ranging from 3 to 95 years in age, this Santa Barbara based program tailors lessons to the specific needs of each individual, a holistic approach strengthening physical; cognitive; social; and behavioral abilities.
With over 150 volunteers, Hearts Therapeutic serves riders with disabilities including autism; brain injuries; multiple sclerosis; Down syndrome; and fibromyalgia. They also offer a specialty program for United States Veterans who have sustained injuries or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of their service. ?This is a healing center,? said Executive Director, Kirby Gillispie. ?We are not just teaching people to ride, but increasing capabilities in all areas of their lives.?

Annie sees Hearts? therapeutic benefits everyday.

Her 21-year old daughter, Isa, is developmentally challenged ?

And tho she doesn?t speak with words — Isa has a gift of music and uses sounds and rhythms ? nurtured by music therapy since age three ? to communicate with the world.

And before Hearts, Isa?s right hip would, typically, pop out of socket 25-30 times a day.

Six months of riding on these benevolent horses strengthened her pelvic muscles to the point that it hasn?t popped out since!

Today ? ?Isa is learning how to associate singing tones with cueing her horse. She now can communicate stop, walk, and trot commands by humming different pitches to the lesson volunteers who assist her.?

So Annie ? ?a farm girl at heart? ? knows the critical need to keep these 11 horses healthy so they can continue their magic with all the many riders who rely deeply on their therapeutic and nurturing benefits.

?Annie is the “mother bear” of the Hearts horse herd,? offers Connie Weinsoff, Hearts? Program Director.

?It?s like The Dream Catcher,? Annie – a self-proclaimed ?former hippie? adds. ?We are all connected. There is constant crossover. Here Isa is part of the continuum of ?the human

HEARTS volunteers Ari Wallis, left, and Sarah Mack, right, act as ‘side-walkers’ while Isa rides.

And as for Annie, Weinsoff echoes ?.

?She is always the horses advocate and voice to insure that their care and quality of life is top notch. Annie knows first hand how much the Hearts horses can change lives for the better, being the mom of a daughter who has benefitted from riding at Hearts. She insures that they are well cared for, and rewarded in TLC every day!?

Hearts is actually a family affair for the Topete?s ?

Annie?s husband, Sergio (he works at the Santa Barbara Waterfront for the City of Santa Barbara) helps when he can and their son Diego, 17, logged over 250 volunteer hours at
Hearts over a six-month stretch while being homeschooled.

And The Hearts Experience has produced other surprising family benefits ?

?My 97 year old dad ? a former marathon runner ? visits us twice a year from Chicago for a month at a time,? says Annie. ?He rides here, too, and he and Isa have forged strong bonds from this shared experience.?

And, finally ? this from Annie?s nomination:

?Annie is often moved to tears when she describes how deeply thankful and attached to HEARTS she has become, both through the experiences of her daughter and through her continued love and care for the HEARTS’ horses.

Annie, right, and another volunteer help Isa get situated in the saddle.

Annie’s love and dedicated daily service shows itself very clearly at HEARTS; from clean stalls and well-groomed horses to her friendly advice to new volunteers and the smile she carries when she tells stories of the way HEARTS brings joy to her family’s life.?


And about that ?wild ride? mentioned earlier that first brought the Topetes to Hearts ?

It was the GAP Fire that forced Annie to evacuate the goats for which she was caring at Goleta?s Fairview Gardens.

Hearts was the perfect place — and they were eager to help with ?a stable solution.?

?Once here, I just started feeding and cleaning the horses, too,? she says.

?And it just grew from there.?

And now?

?Isa loves it here! We all love it here!? she states with a big smile.

Making a positive difference in the world right here in our own backyard, our August Volunteer of the Month, Annie Topete, truly symbolizes ?The Heart of Hearts? ?.


Special thanks to Alex Kincaid, HEARTS recent summer volunteer coordinator, for nominating Annie Topete for Volunteer of the Month consideration.