Twenty-year-old Diana Bezdedeanu is dedicating her life to helping others who seek alternative ways to learn. Diana is using Equine Facilitated Learning to reach people in a unique way. Her ability to embrace adaptation and pass on what she has learned sets her apart as one of Westwood's most unique and impactful people.
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By Tom Leyden
Photos By: Rick Bern Photography
Diana Bezdedeanu describes herself as "very involved in Westwood." You may find the 2020 Westwood High School graduate behind the cash register at High Street Market, or you might see her working with Town Clerk Dottie Powers as she organizes and executes town elections.
"There are people I see at the voting polls who I sold a lottery ticket to the night before," said Diana. "I also help with my mom's floral business, so I am a familiar face around town."
When you meet Diana, the 20-year-old daughter of Andrei and Paula, she's immediately memorable.
Her magnetic conversational skills stand out, but you also can't help but notice her distinctive glasses.
Diana was born with cataracts, a condition that morphed into glaucoma in her early days, limiting her vision. She also dealt with chronic earaches and it was recently discovered she has permanent nerve-damage hearing loss in her right ear, which necessitates the use of a hearing aid,
"At the start of every school year, we'd have a meeting with my teachers, letting them know what accommodations I needed," said Diana. "Things like large-print worksheets and if they were writing on the whiteboard, I needed them to write in blue or black ink - no lime green or orange. At first, I was very against it. I didn't want any accommodations. I did not want to be ‘different’, but then I came to a point where I learned to embrace my adaptations."
Embracing adaptations has made Diana who she is and set her on a path to help others who might also benefit from learning with accomodations. Specifically, she is certified in Equine-Facilitated Learning and plans to put her life lessons to work to help others who might need a little extra support.
Diana made this decision shortly before indefinitely deferring her acceptance to Colorado State University.
"I know the norm is to graduate and go to college and that's why you take the challenging classes, the AP classes. They were not easy A's. I worked very hard. So a lot of people may say, 'Well that went to waste.' But not really. I went through a certification program. I'm required to take continuing education hours every year. I still think education is very important, I just believe that education has many different forms. There’s not one model that works for everyone.”
"Diana took a time where people were feeling defeated, during the pandemic, and pulled herself together and persevered to follow her passion," said Diana's mom, Paula. "She recognized that therapy doesn’t come to a halt because of a pandemic. In fact, services were in greater demand. She continued to educate herself through online courses and seminars, various volunteer opportunities and planning for her future business."
Diana was drawn to horses at a young age and learned to ride, but ultimately stepped away to spend more time with the Westwood Pop Warner program as a cheerleader.
"I got back into horses during my sophomore year of high school because I missed it," said Diana. "At that point, I was talking to somebody and they asked if I had ever heard of therapeutic horseback riding." And so began her volunteering at the BINA Farm Center.
"I have my own issues with anxiety," said Diana. "Volunteering at the barn helped alleviate some of that. High school is very stressful. I think Westwood, especially. I don't want to say there's an expectation to be perfect, but I kind of felt that way. You have to be 100% involved. You have to take AP classes. You have to be involved in a ton of extra-curricular activities. And I did that. I was heavily involved with Student Council for all four years - fundraising, planning events. It eventually takes a toll on you."
The opportunity to spend time with horses provided Diana a necessary comfort. During her last year at Westwood, she volunteered with Reinbow Therapy, LLC for her Senior Independent Project and connected with a valued mentor, Monica Wu, an occupational therapist utilizing horses in her sessions.
"Throughout the year, I did everything from helping out with the kids and horses in the OT sessions to email marketing and research. I got to learn about different aspects of the industry through Monica. When I volunteered, I didn't think about what else I had to do. I just left it all at the door of the barn."
During the summer of 2021, Diana's eyes were further opened when she worked at Victory Junction, a camp for chronically ill children in North Carolina.
"I was interacting with kids who had serious medical diagnoses such as sickle-cell disease or cancer, and making all sorts of adaptations for them to be able to work with the horses," said Diana. "Everything was adaptable for whatever condition they were dealing with. The seemingly impossible suddenly became possible.”
Most noteworthy was the discovery that people don't need to ride horses to feel connected with them. And wouldn't you know, that's where the story takes an interesting turn.
Diana's horse, Coffee, is an energetic off-the-track Thoroughbred drawn to people. Only four-years-old, Coffee can no longer be ridden after an x-ray revealed a condition known as "Kissing Spine," where vertebrae in her back are overlapping.
"I knew I could eventually incorporate her into working with my clients," said Diana. "They don't have to ride her. They can do anything with her as long as she's not in a saddle.”
Diana's helping people who need a unique form of therapy inspired by a four-year-old horse who needs a little therapy of her own. A match made in heaven.
"I want to work with anyone who feels they can benefit from coming to the barn," said Diana. "As a four-year-old, Coffee needs a job. And I've been doing everything I need to do to make that a reality for her and me. That's building the business infrastructure, getting the proper insurance and ultimately accepting clients. Coffee is currently acting as a companion pony for a therapy horse, keeping her calm in the ring.”
Diana's business, H.O.P.E. in MA, short for "Horses Offering People Education," is in the early stages of development and there's no question she is uniquely qualified to assist any number of people who might benefit from her expertise.
"Yes, I have low vision. Yes, I have a hearing aid," said Diana. "I have extensive experience working with people in therapeutic riding. Based on all of this experience, I am willing to work with people in whatever adaptation they need and I can comfortably have those discussions."
"The best thing that happened to Diana was being able to adopt her own heart horse," said Paula. "Not only was she helping Coffee have a new start in life, but she was also indirectly providing her own therapy through walks and grooming sessions with her heart horse. It's a beautiful bond that is only understood by seeing them together."
To learn more about Diana's vision, visit her website at www.hopeinma.com.
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College Students and Parents: It’s an exciting time as you head back to campus so make sure you’re properly prepared from a safety standpoint.
Derek Field is my Self-Defense & Martial Arts Expert and he shared what could be some life-saving tips in the August issue of Westwood Living.
Take three minutes to listen and learn because it could make a big difference to you, your friends or (parents) your children.
By Abby Stern
The moment July 4th comes and goes I already feel as if summer is halfway over.
I start to try to get in more beach days and enjoy the longer evenings because I know within just a few short weeks, Target’s back to school shopping aisles will be jam-packed with spiral notebooks and 15 types of hilighters.
August is the month for slowing down. Perhaps your kids are done with camp and little league. Maybe you’ve carved a week out of your work schedule to spend at the ocean in the Cape or up in New Hampshire by the lake.
No room for time off? Take your weekend to slow down. Get the ice cream cone. Grab the kayak or golf clubs. Read a good book. Let the kids run through the sprinklers and stay up past their bedtimes.
Before long we will be trading in our beach carts for shopping carts. S’mores and fire pit evenings will be spent with sports practices, band concerts and back-to-school nights.
Our lives get so busy that sometimes we forget to just live. We forget to be present.
I hope you spend your August enjoying the warmth and the sun and family BBQ’s because soon enough we will be counting down the days until summer 2023.
After a successful campaign in 2021, the Flags for Heroes program is returning this September in Westwood. The Rotary Club of Westwood, along with the Council on Aging, is honoring the heroes in your life by flying flags with their names attached to the flag for two weeks, beginning September 3 and running through September 18.
The flags will be displayed around the Senior Center Gazebo on Nahatan Street.
Click "My Hero's Information" button below to personalize your flag with your hero's information and process the $50 payment through the "Sponsor A Flag Now" button above.
Please click the button below to share information about your hero so we can honor him or her appropriately.