Babineaux makes a difference at Driving Magic

Jonathan Babineaux makes a living chasing quarterbacks and knocking down running backs for the Falcons.

Babineaux spent a recent day off from his job at Steadfast Farms in Hoschton, helping autistic and disabled high school students work with horses and knock over bowling pins.

Babineaux volunteered as a teacher’s assistant at Driving Magic, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic carriage driving and horsemanship programs for children and adults with developmental and/or physical disabilities.

It was quite the change for Babineaux, a defensive tackle whose 6-foot-2, 300-pound frame towered over the children.

“You don’t get this every day,” he said. “Taking time out of a busy schedule to interact with the kids, to make a difference in their lives, it’s special to me.”

The students seem to like it, too.

DaVon, who was at Driving Magic with a moderate autistic class from Duluth High School, responded positively when asked if he was a fan of the Falcons. He smiled when told that Babineaux plays for the team.

It doesn’t take a visit from a pro football player to witness that kind of joy at Driving Magic. The organization’s executive director, Jennifer Lindskoog, said she sees it all the time when students leave their classrooms for a day at the farm.

“The thing we see happen with the kids who come out there, I call them ‘magic moments’ because sometimes, if you are not looking for it, you might miss it,” she said.

She cited two students during Babineaux’s visit as examples.

Duluth High student Nicholas was enjoying throwing a ball to knock over some bowling pins on a special alley standing alongside a carriage path. (Babineaux helped him pick up a spare.)

Lindskoog said back when Nicholas started with Driving Magic, he would sit slumped in his wheelchair and would not speak. She said Nicholas found motivation from one of the carriage horses, “Heidi,” after volunteers told him the horse would go if he lifted his head.

“After a time, his teacher said the moment that they would be getting on the bus and she would tell him, ‘We are going to see Ms. Jennifer at Driving Magic,’ he would have his head up in the bus,” Lindskoog said. “These are people that normally some people would just pass by and say, ‘They are so disabled, what could we ever do for them?’ For Nicholas, he had his head up that day. That was a magic moment that he accomplished in his life.”

MinYong was at the farm with a severe/profound disability class from Peachtree Ridge. Lindskoog said he’s typically nonverbal but on this day, MinYong looked at a horse’s pricked ears and said, “Up.”

“That’s a huge accomplishment for him,” Lindskoog said.

In addition to programs for school groups, Driving Magic has work skills days for adults with disabilities and individual carriage driving lessons. The volunteers develop customized lesson plans for the school groups, using, for example, a bowling game or a grocery shopping exercise to teach counting.

Lynda Gattis, who was working as a volunteer on the day of Babineaux’s visit, has a son enrolled in one of the programs.

“I love it,” she said. “It gives them something that is their own.”

Babineaux is involved with several charitable organizations in the area. He learned of Driving Magic and offered to help in part because of his love of horses, which he developed while growing up in Port Arthur, Texas.

“I know what it’s like to be a kid and how awesome that is,” Babineaux said.

During Babineaux’s visit, there were four horses working with the kids. They ranged in size from the tiny “Dusty” to the massive “Heidi.” Lindskoog said it’s important that the Driving Magic horses have an even temperament because they must remain calm when the students get excited.

When not working, the horses are free to roam a large portion of the 100 acres of Steadfast Farm set aside for Driving Magic.

“They have a life of freedom,” she said. “I think that’s what makes them more calm.”

Driving Magic is always in need of volunteers because it takes several to operate the classes. People with horse experience are helpful but volunteers also can work as student assistants or help groom the horses.

“We are glad to have one-time volunteers, once a week, once a month,” said Jennifer Lee, the organization’s volunteer coordinator.

It’s a chance to witness a magic moment.

“I encourage more people to help with things like this,” Babineaux said. “I think society today, we all kind of miss out on things like this.”

For more information about Driving Magic, go to or call 404-358-4129.