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Community Notebook: Big Hope Little Rodeo in East Palo Alto

Fundraising event to benefit children with disabilities this Sunday

There'll be ropin' and bull ridin' and barrel racing and mutton busting -- and even a stick horse race for kids at the Big Hope Little Rodeo in East Palo Alto this Sunday, June 22, 11 a.m . to 4 p.m.

Proceeds from the event, which will be hosted by the Ravenswood Ranch at 1103 Weeks St., support Palo Alto-based Abilities United's Early Intervention Services program. Abilities United is a United Way-affiliated nonprofit agency for children and adults with developmental disabilities such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, autism, and other conditions causing developmental delays and disabilities who live in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

The event will also raise money for scholarships for low-income children to receive early intervention therapies.

Big Hope Little Rodeo is the brainchild of East Palo Alto resident Jose Rojas, whose love for all things rodeo and horse date back to his childhood in Mexico where he learned to ride and dreamed of riding in rodeos. But his greatest inspiration to host this rodeo are his 2-year-old twin boys, one of whom has Down syndrome and receives early-invention services from Abilities United, he said.

Rojas and his wife soon learned there are many low-income children who can't afford the early-intervention therapies they need. The couple decided they could combine their passion for rodeos and horses with their love for children and community involvement, he said. So they formed "Big Hope Little Rodeo," a nonprofit with a mission to raise scholarship money for children with special needs who need the therapies provided by organizations such as Abilities United.

Rojas expects more than 500 attendees to show up Sunday and hopes to raise $5,000. The cities of East Palo Alto and Redwood City are sponsoring the event.

"My profit is to see the kids with smiles on their faces and memories of a rodeo in East Palo Alto," Rojas said. "I want this to be a nice, unforgettable, welcoming experience for all. I travel all over California providing pony rides and mechanical-bull rides at over 25 rodeos, but this is the first time I will produce an event. I am very excited and plan to do this every year."

Rojas' love for horses and children extends across all aspects of his life. He now owns eight ponies and nine horses. He said he and his wife plan to become certified to provide equine therapy to children who can benefit from horseback riding. He started his pony-ride business to encourage his children to ride and to give them the opportunities he didn't have as a child, he said. Now his children all ride and rope and his 18-year-old daughter plans to become a veterinarian.

Ravenswood Ranch, where the rodeo will take place, is the only urban ranch of its kind, serving children and adults in East Palo Alto and surrounding communities. The ranch aims to teach the community basic skills from gardening to animal care as well as expose residents to other possible career and recreation options.

Gates will open Sunday at 11 a.m. with rodeo events beginning at 1:30 p.m. and live music by Buck Ford and his Pure Country band starting at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Pony rides, other activities for children and food and beverages are sold separately. Admission is free for children under 12 years old who are accompanied by an adult.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 650-274-1797 or emailing bighopelittlerodeo@yahoo.com.

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