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Woman collecting books, puzzles for Guelph seniors

The Following Up story catches up with Helen Vanos, who has a new initiative to help during the pandemic after doing visits with her therapy horse last May

A request for books and puzzles for seniors on Facebook has received a large response from the Guelph community.

“It kind of doesn’t surprise me that people have been so wonderful,” says Helen Vanos, who posted the question on Tuesday in a Facebook group called Guelph This & That. 

“Pleasantly overwhelmed with sort of... the outpouring of support, I’ve already had, like, two car loads of books and we’re running out of space in our living room for them.”

All donated items will sit and quarantine before being sorted and delivered to people. 

“I would like to get them delivered over the next couple of weeks once they’ve been sorted and divided up,” she says.

Currently, more books than puzzles have been donated to the cause.

“Three-hundred to 500 piece puzzles were specified, so we always appreciate those,” Vanos mentioned.

Vanos says she became interested in helping provide these things to seniors as a way of still being able to provide joy to people during the pandemic. Outside of this initiative, she is the founder of a social enterprise called Small Wonders Miniature Therapy Horses.

“We take miniature horses into a variety of different environments, so we connect with people of all ages and abilities,” explains Vanos about the concept behind Small Wonders.

“Ultimately, our goal is to provide a culture of kindness, respect and wellbeing.”

Before the pandemic, Vanos would bring their miniature horse, Gracie, to interact with children and seniors. While Gracie is not a true therapy animal, Vanos is always working with her on training and desensitization.

“She was really, really patient and really tolerant and I didn’t sense that there was a mean bone in her body,” says Vanos.

Growing up with horses, Vanos says they had a positive impact on her mental health. 

Since they are much larger animals of prey, she says people are forced to pay more attention to a horse’s movements and body language, which leads people to be mindful.

“Every time I come away from the barn after spending time with horses, and Gracie in particular, I just feel so much lighter than when I had arrived.”

With the pandemic making it hard to bring Gracie to people, Vanos tried to find new ways of running her program, but found it wasn’t getting the same results she was hoping for.

“We did one window visit back in May,” she recalls, “And the residents were happy to see us, and we got lots of smiles and it was really heartwarming, but it wasn’t the same.”

“I started to think that there must be another way to do some good.”

As the one-year mark of the pandemic approaches, Vanos says she was looking for other ways to serve the community. She reached out to a senior’s home Small Wonders visited in 2019 to see what she could do to help.

“I asked if there would be an interest in books and puzzles, and she wrote back immediately and said, ‘Absolutely,’” says Vanos, “She gave me the specifics on the preferred authors and puzzle sizes.”

Wanting to help as many facilities as possible, Vanos says those in the connecting can contact her by email at

“If program managers or recreation directors at facilities in Guelph that are interested in connecting with me or us to set up a delivery, that would be awesome.”