Diana Schnell was recently presented with the Service Above Self Award by the Libertyville Sunrise Rotary Club.
The award was established by the Club in 1997 to recognize non-Rotarians who exemplify the Rotary motto of "Service Above Self".
"This award is a great way in which our club recognizes unsung heroes within our community", noted Bill Rickert, chairman of the award committee.
Schnell was selected for this award for her tireless efforts with the Equestrian Connection, a therapeutic riding center in Lake County.
In 1990, Diana gave birth to twin boys, both of whom were born with severe cerebral palsy. they have been confined to wheelchairs their entire lives. Through the age of 10, they were engaged in traditional forms of therapy and were not seeing results. Diana had heard about therapeutic horseback riding and took her boys to a farm in Wisconsin. The results were impressive as the twins responded positively to the horses.
Diana decided to start a therapeutic riding center in Lake County and in 2001, Equestrian Connection was born. It started in rented facilities with borrowed horses. In the intervening years, acting as volunteer Executive Director, Diana has overseen the growth of Equestrian Connection to today, where they own ten acres of land and a 26,000 square foot barn. They have 19 horses and see over 220 riders every week, over 11,000 annual visits. In addition to fundraising, Diana coordinates programming and over 500 volunteers and an annual budget approaching $1 million. She routinely works over 50 hours a week in a strictly volunteer capacity, receiving no compensation. She has invested personal funds into Equestrian Connection on numerous occasions to cover cash flow deficiencies.
Additionally, prior to Equestrian Connection, Diana was instrumental in the Libertyville High School CATS Special Olympics swim team as parent, coach, lifeguard and fundraiser. She has competed in numerous marathons and Ironman triathlons with the sole purpose of raising funds and awareness for Equestrian Connection. She is a tireless advocate for those with disabilities and advocates with no expectation of personal gain or recognition.
According to Rotary, Schnell exemplifies the criteria for the Service Above Self Award. It states: "Nominee saw a need and, without hesitation and without being instructed to do so, took on the tasks to meet that need."
The Libertyville Sunrise Rotary Club is a local chapter of Rotary International. Founded in 1905 by Paul Harris in Chicago, it is an international humanitarian service organization.