ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford city leaders are taking a hands-on approach to breaking the cycle of violence for local at-risk kids.

The Rockford Park District said that this can be done using horses. Experts said that developing a bond with a horse can help kids get more in tune with their emotions.

“We believe we can’t afford not to do this,” said Jay Sandine, executive director of the Rockford Park District. “Our kids are crying for help, and we believe this is a powerful tool to help our kids and get them on a path of success.”

The Rockford Park District unveiled a plan to build a new indoor equine center at Lockwood Park,  5201 Safford Rd. Programming at the proposed $4 million facility would focus on using horses to help youth who have experienced trauma.

“Allowing them to feel they’re not alone, allowing how to learn how to trust again, how to be vulnerable again,” said Kevin Polky, executive director of KP Counseling.

Park district staff would partner with local experts like Polky to run the intervention programs. Polky believes that equine-assisted therapy could help cut down on youth crime.

“It may give them an opportunity to get engaged with an activity, get engaged with something that is different then what would be the underlying issues of why they are choosing to use violence as a means to an end,” Polky said.

“We see it all the time with kids that come to our camps or programs with the horses. They really change the lives of our kids, and that’s what our kids need right now,” Sandine added.

Board members pledged $2 million towards the project on Tuesday night. The park district has also received a $500,000 grant from the Perks Family Foundation. Sandine is hopeful that another $1.5 million in grant funding could be on the way from the Winnebago County Mental Health Board.

“That’s the prime audience of the kids we’re looking to impact, is kids that are dealing with mental health, social emotional issues,” Sandine said. “We’re introducing horses to that clinical intervention work.”

The project could break ground as soon as this fall, depending on when the park district secures the rest of the funding, according to Sandine. The board also voted to purchase new playground equipment for Saturn Park, 6540 Garrett Ln., and to move forward with renovations at the Riverview Ice House, 324 N Madison St.