2022 Spirit of Service Award Recipient brings joy to her community
The world says climb the ladder to success, but what if true greatness is in serving others? The world celebrates intellect, beauty, and talent, but what if our character and hearts are more important? The world applauds power, strength, and wealth, but what if it is better to be humble and trusting like a child? Special needs individuals serve an important role in society. They teach other people about perseverance and overcoming obstacles. They help people learn to show compassion.”
- Jeanne Damoff
Through her work, Ginna Maxwell Rauls ’92 has witnessed “miracles.”
She has watched as a student who had never spoken a word in his life loudly said “whoa” to his horse, shocking and delighting those around him. She has marveled as a child with autism — stimulated from a week of activity — took two or three laps around the ring on horseback and became completely calm.
These positive changes in disposition are what inspire Ms. Rauls’ work. As founder of the Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy and Memphis Joy Prom, she nurtures children with intellectual and developmental disabilities so that they “are able to turn struggle into success as they build strength, develop confidence, and achieve short and long-term goals to enhance their daily life skills.”
On Tuesday, Harpeth Hall recognized Ms. Rauls with the 2022 Alumna Spirit of Service Award for her work. Ms. Rauls’ dedication to the betterment of her community was motivated by a need, she said, “to help special needs children with activities that make them feel just like any other kid.”
Ms. Rauls wanted to serve others even as a child.
She grew up with a love of riding ponies and horses. At age 12, a television commercial starring a little boy with Down syndrome moved her to meet the needs of this special community. At 14, she dreamed of combining her two passions and starting an equine therapy program when she grew up. At 17, she spent Winterim at the Harris Hillman Special School and Duncanwood School.
Ms. Rauls' gift was connecting with and supporting young people with disabilities.
Her strong foundation for service to the community led to the founding of two organizations that would become her life’s work.
In 2014, Ms. Rauls founded the Memphis Joy Prom. For many with special needs, they are never able to pick out a dress, ride in a limo, and attend their own prom. Joy Prom, a full-scale prom for special needs friends ages 16 and up, works to fix this.
The first Memphis Joy Prom welcomed 100 special friends ages 17 and up to a walk down the red carpet lined with paparazzi. After months of planning and signing up more than 350 volunteers, a beautiful evening emerged. Ice sculptures, live music, corsages, long dresses, and tuxedos were all part of the magical night. After each guest walked the red carpet, they received a host who made sure every detail was considered, including a photo, a limousine ride, shoeshines, manicures, hair styling, make up — the star treatment. The Prom concluded with many parents joining their children on the dance floor with tears of joy.
These miracles may seem small, but seeing the joy on the faces of participants' families, or the prom attendees at the Memphis Joy Prom inspire Ms. Rauls every day.
So, too, does her work with Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy, which she founded in 2015. Today, the young woman who grew up dreaming about busses of young students driving up to her farm and children getting out to ride horses, has seen that vision to fruition.
“Whatever your passion is,” she told students,” Harpeth Hall is great at preparing you academically — the school also helps you find what fills your heart.”
Ms. Rauls hasn’t stopped seeking those opportunities for fulfillment.
When COVID-19 hit, Ms. Rauls unsurprisingly jumped into action to help her community.
A friend who was an ER doctor at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital asked Ms. Rauls to please make masks for her and other doctors. Once again starting small, and not able to be within six feet of fellow seamstresses, Ms. Rauls organized drop off stations on her front porch.
Everyone wanted to help, so friends and strangers pulled through the circular drive dropping off supplies in labeled stations. Fabric here, elastic here, if you can’t sew please cut fabric using this pattern, return cut fabric here, return finished masks here. Many doctors and frontline workers would pick up the masks from the porch. This went on for months, grew to an unknown number of helpers, and was covered on the local news.
Later, a phone call from Baptist Hospital to Ms. Rauls and a sewing friend changed the project overnight. The hospital found 27,000 N95 protective face masks in a basement, but the elastic had dry-rotted. At that time N95 masks were scarce and desperately needed in the overcrowded hospitals. Could Ms. Rauls and her friend organize the replacement of the 27,000 elastic straps? They agreed to take 6,000 and began organizing a pyramid of 20 teams offering training on zoom. Elastic needed for masks was in short supply world-wide. The order was delayed. By the time the elastic came, 410 volunteers had joined the pyramid and all 27,000 masks were repaired and delivered back in 3 days.
Throughout the years, her husband, daughters, and friends have volunteered with Ms. Rauls, often recruiting their friends to dedicate a Friday night to fill slots at Joy Prom or a Saturday to lead a horse.
As friends speak with Ms. Rauls by phone, she is often looking for an address to deliver a “happy” to someone having a hard time. When she was a little girl, her artwork usually had sunshine in the upper left corner. To those who know her, Ms. Rauls is sunshine.
Her tireless work and dedication to others inspires those around her of all ages. Ms. Rauls has been a catalyst for powerful and positive change in her communities. She remains humble about her role in the dreams she has helped come true – dreams that began years ago in the halls of Harpeth Hall.
“When you find what your gifts are,” she said, “you never know where it will take you.”