Greatest Person of the Day: Marilyn Peterson

A passion to help children with disabilities using equine therapy keeps Dr. Marilyn Peterson's life positively abundant.

Credit: Parkwood Farms Therapy Center
Credit: Parkwood Farms Therapy Center

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published Sept. 28, 2011.)

There are some things you get worked up about, and then there are most things. Dr. Marilyn Peterson understands that; she doesn’t major in the minor stuff.

What she does care about, she cares about deeply. For the past nine years providing children with equine therapy has been her mission. A chiropractor by trade, she’s had to get OK with not being able to build her practice – something she certainly wants to do – because what the children need is most important.

At her Parkwood Farms Therapy Center in Snellville, Ga., Peterson and her volunteers provide special needs children with multi-discipline therapy, including chiropractic and oxygen therapy. The farm was founded in 2002, and it is also where Peterson lives.

It’s “the smiles on the kids’ faces,” she said one afternoon while riffling through stacks of payments for her chiropractic business. “I know I always feel like what I’m doing is something small. Just recently, I’ve been seeing that it’s a large impact, and that it’s not just the children we’re working with; it’s their whole families.”

That’s how her 16- to 18-hour days, busy nights and weekends make any sense.

“It’s not really a job or a career,” she said. “It’s really a passion.” 

A volunteer once tried to sum up why she works so much, leaving little time for herself and the other things she likes to do such as hiking and Nascar. "'Because it’s your job,'" Peterson recalled the volunteer said. Well, not really.

“I wouldn’t work this hard at a job,” she said. “This is what I believe God’s plan was for me. I’m supposed to do this, and really it has to be because by all rights – financially, physically, everything – I should not be able to keep going, but I’m here.

“We’re strong,” she added about the center. “We’re not as strong as I’d like it to be.”

The weight of running her business and her hopes to accomplish more – more funds, more programs, more children to serve -- is sometimes heavy, she does admit. But, Peterson, 57, knows that what she needs will be done. It’s one of those things she need not worry about. 

“I totally believe that we’re given everything that we’re supposed to have,” she said. “We really don’t go without. We may not have the extra stuff that we might think we need…There’s been a lot of blessings.”

Sometimes when she’s wondering how the center will make it through the month, someone sends a donation. Just when it looks like there is not enough feed for the horses, someone does that for free. (In addition, a stable fee helps cover the costs of horse care.)

In the end, it all works out. You get back what you put out there. And, that’s how Peterson looks at it. Any other way, and she’d have sat down a long time ago, letting life challenges get the most of her.

But, having been divorced and now the single mother of six children – three biological and three adoptive children with special needs, she knows about hard work. Despite what some people may assume from her rustic appearance or straightforward approaches, she’s really a big softie, who just wants to do good.

Her volunteers and the families she serves attest to that. She sees the big picture and gets everyone going, said Ginger Jones, of Snellville, who volunteers at the farm three to four days a week. In addition, Jones said Peterson assesses the children with such accuracy, pairing them with the right treatment and horse.

“She is amazing person,” Jones said, who is recently retired. “She is a tireless worker for her cause. She really enthuses everyone who works with her. It’s just amazing.”

(Note: This article is featured on Huffington Post as part of its Greatest Person of the Day series.)


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