Van Raub Elementary School

The chickens at Van Raub Elementary really do rule the roost. Drop by the school during recess and you’ll find a flurry of activity by the chicken coop as students check in on their favorite hens. While watching the birds’ antics provides plenty of entertainment, the school’s principal, Summer Gault, affirms there’s much more in play.

“We work hard to develop well-rounded young people, doing our part to help our students be their best selves daily,” she explains. Learning to care for the school’s chickens contributes to that goal.

As fourth graders, students can become “Chicken Tenders.” As the title suggests, they assume responsibility for the birds, under the watchful eye of teacher Laura Brace. New this year, students from the school’s Life Skills class joined the Chicken Tender ranks, extending the learning and leadership opportunities to some of Van Raub’s at-risk youth.

“Watching the smiles that the chickens bring to all of the students, even those that just watch and admire from a distance, has been an incredible experience,” Laura says. “But there’s plenty of learning too, as students gain experience in responsible pet ownership, animal advocacy and topics related to animal welfare.”

For fourth grader Josh, it’s just fun. “I like that we care about them, learn to protect them, clean up after them and give them comfort,” he says. “Plus, I’ve learned to become more responsible and how to lead without being a boss.”


Paws for Purple Hearts

Booth is a two-year-old black lab with a smile that makes your heart bubble and a helicopter tail that looks about ready to take off. She’s also a service dog, with a mission to help veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries and similar trauma-related conditions.

Booth is part of Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH), a first-of-its-kind program offering Canine Assisted Warrior Therapy® for wounded service members and veterans. The non-profit was founded and continues to be led by Dr. Bonnie Bergin, one of the world’s leading researchers in service dog therapy.

Today, PPH is a national organization with seven facilities across the country. It is accredited by Assistance Dog International and is one of three programs invited to participate in the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members Act pilot program – an initiative launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Dogs are far more intuitive than people often give them credit for,” notes Danielle Stockbridge, a marketing and communication specialist with PPH. “They can pick up on the emotional state of a Warrior before the Warrior can sort out how they’re feeling themselves. The dogs provide comfort without judgment.”

A recent session with Booth offers a prime example. The black lab had taken a liking to one of PPH’s clients. While the veteran has worked with several dogs, her connection with Booth is special. “Booth makes her feel calmer and less anxious,” Stockbridge explains, recalling a recent incident where the intuitive canine put her training into action. “The veteran was having intrusive thoughts. Booth picked up on it, nudged her and laid across her lap to provide stress-reducing pressure.” With a little help from the canine, the veteran was able to break free from dark thoughts.

These moments – big and small – are daily occurrences at PPH. “Through our canine-assisted therapeutic programs and Assistance Dog placements, I get to see Warriors lives changed every day,” Stockbridge adds. It’s a program she wishes had been available to her grandfather, a veteran who struggled with flashbacks, anger and alcoholism. “It’s my goal that no family has to suffer the way my mother’s family did, and that every Warrior is able to get the help they need.”


Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center

Bobby was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, he struggles with a seizure disorder and uses a wheelchair to get around. Throughout his life he has endured multiple surgeries and countless hours of therapy and procedures. It was on the way to one of those appointments that his mom noticed the new sign for Brave Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center.

“My mom is a horse person, so she’d been on the lookout for an equine therapy program,” Bobby recalls. “She called right away, and I became one of their first students.”

At the time, then six-year-old Bobby became fast friends with Leia, a half-Arabian chestnut mare. With Leia, Bobby grew stronger, improved his balance, built confidence and even found his voice. He explains, “I wasn’t talking to anyone else at the time, but after a week or two, my mom said I started talking to Leia like she was a person as soon as I rolled into the barn.”

Now 22 years old, Bobby acknowledges he wasn’t the child who would receive playdates, sleepovers or birthday party invites. He said, “Week after week, my barn friends – both animal and human – became my opportunity to socialize and hang out.”

Brave Meadows’ director, Shannon Patrick, founded the center with the aim of improving lives like Bobby’s through the healing power of horses. “Running Brave Meadows is a labor of love, and while it can be challenging, it’s also incredibly rewarding,” she noted. “We’re a place where people and animals come to find comfort, joy and a sense of belonging, and we’re so proud of the work we do and the impact we have on our community.”

Whispering Acres Tails and Treasures

Nyema has autism spectrum disorder. She has difficulty with social interactions, focusing and staying on task. But when she’s with Alice – her favorite therapy horse – those challenges seem a little less daunting.

“She’s learned to get her horse, groom her, saddle and bridle her, ride her and then do everything in reverse,” says Nyema’s mom. “Some days are better than others, but she always gets the job done, because she knows that is what is required to ride.”

For Jill Kuzelka, founder of Whispering Acres, stories like Nyema’s are exactly why she started the Nebraska-based non-profit. “We’re a safe place for people to work on challenges, often in a way that doesn’t seem like work,” she explains.

The non-profit offers something for everyone, from its much-loved petting zoo – complete with pygmy goats, chickens, peacocks and donkeys – to the High Hopes Equine Assisted Learning Center, which empowers children and adults with physical, mental, emotional and social challenges to create more active, healthy and fulfilling lives.

“Helping people live their best lives is the ultimate goal for me,” Kuzelka says. The animals at Whispering Acres seem to share her commitment. Take Duke, a 12-year-old Paint. Jill recalls an especially memorable first visit for one young, non-verbal client, who didn’t want to get out of the car. “Duke stuck his head in the car window, and they’ve had a great relationship ever since,” she says. “Now even on his bad days, he still wants to pet Duke.”

Piketon High School FFA

Agriculture education teacher Kristen Campbell loves teaching high schoolers about agriculture and veterinary science. Her passion is clearly infectious – which explains why one in five Piketon High School students participated in Agriculture classes last year.

Under Campbell’s watchful eye, students learn to care for all kinds of animals, including chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, horses, miniature pigs, dogs, cats and yes – even a bearded dragon. “The more students learn about these animals, the better care they provide and the deeper they understand how important animals are to their livelihood,” she says.

While the class curriculum aims to give students a solid grounding in animal husbandry, students also benefit from the connections formed with the classroom animals. “The animals don’t judge,” Campbell explains, “they just provide love and support.”

For troubled teens, Campbell’ Agriculture classes can become a refuge against life’s trials, disappointments and tragedies. She recalls how one young student, struggling after the death of sibling, found solace in the classroom rabbit. Then there’s the high schooler who came from a verbally abusive home.

“She absolutely fell in love with one of our little chicks,” Campbell recalls. “Every time she held it, her face lit up with a big smile like they were meant to be together.” Seeing a connection that shouldn’t be broken, Kristen arranged for the student to care for the chick at her grandparents’ home.

Piketon’s Agriculture students already benefit greatly from their animal education coursework, but their intrepid teacher has her sights set on creating a more comprehensive learning environment. Currently, larger animals are brought in for a day, but Kristen aims to give her teens more in-depth interactions and responsibilities. She’s currently raising funds to install a small livestock barn at the high school, enabling student to gain more hands-on experience with daily animal care.

Purpose Farm

Sixteen-year-old Candace loves Purpose Farm, a place where she can set her hurt aside and feel the unconditional love of animals. She says being at the farm makes her happy and helps her release anxiety and stress. That’s exactly what Founder Sandra Seabrook envisioned when she launched the unique mentorship program 14 years ago. 

At Purpose Farm, youth with emotional issues stemming from neglect, abuse, bullying, and similar challenges connect with the farm’s animal and human mentors. As they assist with chores and bond with the animals, the children find purpose, experience love, build confidence and gain empathy. 

Most of our animals come from a neglected and abused background, too,” Sandra explains. “These animals, once lonely, hurting, and looking for affection and a friend, are now cared for by children who are often in the same position.” 

It’s a powerful combination, and one that volunteer Lynn Fofi says gives the participating youth confidence, skills, and experiences that will support them throughout their lives. “Purpose Farm is working to improve the lives of so many kids that wouldn’t otherwise know that life is good,” she explains. “Simply by giving them opportunities to love and care for animals, they see how they can make a difference in the world.” 

Broome County 4-H

Fifteen-year-old Reanna is a big proponent of 4-H, America’s largest youth development organization. She credits the program for developing her love of animals, while also honing her public speaking and leadership skills.

“The education you gain in this program can’t be learned anywhere else,” she insists. “4-H changed my life for the better and I truly believe I would not be the person I am today without 4-H and agriculture.”

Brian Aukema, associate director of agriculture for Broome County’s Cooperative Extension service, concurs with Reanna’s enthusiasm. That’s why he’s working to start a Livestock Rodeo, an event that will teach local youth about animal care, nutrition, showmanship, and grooming.

“Less than 2% of our population are directly involved in livestock production and farming, but one in ten jobs deal with agriculture,” he explains. “That’s why it is very important for organizations like 4-H to thrive. It provides youth the opportunity to develop that passion to feed the world.”

Brian hopes the Livestock Rodeo will inspire more youth to join the program. “4-H has a special meaning for everyone, but for all of us, it’s a place to explore our interests and build our own identity,” he maintains. “It’s a supportive community to help youth take on new challenges and reach their full potential. Working together, youth and adults find they can create a powerful change in the world around them, help local communities thrive, and develop their own spark.”

For Reanna, that spark started as a five-year-old showing a few bunnies and grew into a desire to study agriculture in college. “I had no idea that joining 4-H would have the impact on my life that it does and would help me grow in so many ways,” she says. “Now, there is nothing I love more than advocating for the livestock industry. 4-H is truly life-changing.”

Legacy Farmstead

John and Amy Henderson started Legacy Farmstead with a mission to help veterans and first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress. Aided by their team of therapy horses, along with a barnyard full of goats, cows, chickens, pigs and cats, the couple helps families reconnect and heal through their unique blend of equine therapy and farm life. 

“PTSD not only affects the veteran or first responder that experienced it, but it truly affects the entire family,” John explains. “Legacy Farmstead is a place for individuals and families to retreat and get away from their troubles.” 

The non-profit’s idyllic setting provides the perfect atmosphere for renewal. In addition to its caring team, Amy insists it’s the therapy horses that are the true heroes. The herd, all abused or abandoned by previous owners, have a magical way of connecting with Legacy visitors. One family, who had lost their two teenage children in a car accident, stands out. 

“The mother would hardly talk to anyone or go anywhere,” Amy recalls. Desperate for help, her family heard about Legacy and came out for a weekend. She arrived quiet, sullen and terrified of animals, but Chief, a therapy horse with a difficult past, helped her transform. “By the end of the weekend, she wanted to be a part of everything,” Amy continues. “We’ve never experienced something so massive before.” 

Gateway to the Great Outdoors

A lifelong outdoorsman, Nadav Sprague wanted to share his love for nature, animals, and the great outdoors with students from low-income families. That desire prompted him to launch Gateway to the Great Outdoors (GGO) while still a student at Washington University.

Five years later, the program he built partners with public schools in Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, to provide animal, outdoor, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education to underserved students. GGO’s curriculum combines hands-on, inquiry-based classroom instruction and nature-based outings and overnight trips, with year-round mentorship from university students.

Before participating in GGO, 78% of students indicated that they had not been to a park in a year or more. Nadav’s non-profit works to give those children the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature, including up-close encounters with wildlife.

Through field trips and overnight camping outings, students gain a new appreciation for animals and the environment. “We’re educating and inspiring the next generation of animal stewards and advocates,” Nadav says, “… and helping students make connections between themselves, the environment, and wildlife.”

Carl E. Dahl House

Situated on a 40-acre hilltop in Athol, Massachusetts, the Carl E. Dahl House represents a departure from traditional approaches to substance abuse recovery. Here, residents learn to care for livestock and reconnect with the earth, while also receiving clinical support and recovery education.

Patients still receive individual counseling, group counseling and develop individual treatment plans, just as they would in another program. However, instead of sitting in classrooms or on therapists’ couches, these sessions happen in barns and pastures. As a result, the unique therapeutic farming program facilitates healing in a setting that feels more like a large family than a sterile clinic-based recovery program.

“The animals on the farm are the secret ingredient in our equation,” says Katie Follett, the therapeutic farm coordinator for the Dahl House. “Our animals don’t judge. They make no assumptions and have no interest in the mistakes a person has made in the past. Instead, they seek companionship and love.”

Purpose is built into every day, as residents combine counseling sessions with daily farm responsibilities. Farm staff provides all the necessary training and support, enabling clients to go to bed each night with a sense of accomplishment.

“Tasks that at first look like chores such as feeding, watering, grooming, and walking soon become expressions of empathy and compassion for another living being,” Katie explains. “Our animals play a vital role in helping our patients rediscover their self-worth as together they learn how to depend on each other.”

Like any working farm, at the Dahl House there are no days off. “It’s great practice for a person in recovery,” Katie insists. “Just as the farm and animals need care in rain, snow, or blistering heat, people in recovery must work their program every day, no matter what.”

AgriScience Biotechnology Academy

Where a passionate student intersects with a special opportunity, lives can change for the better. That’s the philosophy AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy brings to their mission of inspiring and educating the world’s next generation of animal science and medicine professionals.

The organization works with high schoolers and veterinary professionals to coordinate learning opportunities for secondary-education students. All students are welcome–both who come from a more traditional background, and those facing challenges, be they in learning style, mental health, or family resources. And the learning experiences they’re provided aren’t busy work either–the students are immediately on-the-job learning to heal, groom, and help animals. All the while, the students are working toward their Veterinary Assistance Certification, so that when their time in the program ends, they’ll be ready to join the workforce right away.

AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy is doing something incredible. Not only are they helping an upcoming generation of students find gainful, rewarding employment with a practical educational head-start in medicine and agri-science, but they’re also helping animals. By ensuring the next generation of veterinarians are well-stocked, motivated, and inspired, they ensure a brighter future of care for the animals that will inevitably need it.

One AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy educator, Holly Hultgren, said it best, “When they get into that classroom it sparks something and that can change their entire life.” These educators are giving students access to more opportunities, while animals give them a sense of belonging. And that’s giving all of us a brighter future.

BIG Heart Ranch

Thirteen years ago, Suzi Landolphi set out to create a program that would support animals and humans. BIG Heart Ranch (BHR) is the result of her efforts – a place to help disadvantaged children and families recover from trauma, using therapeutic interactions with rescued animals. Along the way, the organization has rescued and rehabilitated dozens of chickens, bunnies, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys, and even a couple of alpacas.

Personal experience served as her inspiration, as Suzie discovered working with horses helped her overcome her own childhood trauma. She became a licensed psychotherapist and soon put her training to work, pairing rescued horses with humans struggling with addition and other mental health issues.

“Animals are non-judgmental and relate to all, regardless of mental health diagnoses, and physical, emotional and intellectual abilities,” she explains, noting that participants with the most challenges often experience the greatest sense of wellbeing at BHR.

The ranch’s certified facilitators and licensed clinicians use experiential learning and therapy models to help clients practice kindness, honesty and integrity. Participants start by interacting with the farm’s horses and other animals, then learn to transfer those qualities to their human relationships.

But it’s not just the humans who find healing at BHR. “Many of our animals were neglected and abused,” Suzie explains. “At BHR, they live in a calm, caring environment where the caretakers help the animals regain trust. As their emotional health improves, so does their physical wellbeing.”

Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch

Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch provides a home for school-age girls from troubled backgrounds. For many, the long-term residential program is their first safe place to live, grow and be part of a functioning family. But make no mistake, it’s also a working ranch, complete with cows, chickens and horses, and the girls are central to their care.

Tending to all those animals brings plenty of rewards – but Ranch Director Candice Gulley admits there can be difficulties. “Our animal-based programs teach resiliency,” she explains. “Although you may fall off a horse, dust yourself off and try again. We hope the girls carry this principle with them into their adult lives.”

Those animals are also what sets Tallapoosa apart from other programs designed to help children in crisis. Sure, it’s a hands-on way to teach responsibility and the value of hard work – but Candice says the girls get so much more. “We use these programs to help kids look beyond their past and see a future they can be proud of,” she maintains.

Of course, it’s not all work. All the girls live in family situations at the Ranch, which includes five separate homes, along with a pool, gym, chapel and more. Then there’s the therapeutic benefits of simply being surrounded by nature. Holly Brown, a regular volunteer at the ranch, points out the calming effect animals can have.Animal-based programs can take away anxiety, fear, depression and build a child’s confidence,” she says.

During her nine years with the organization, Candice and her husband have been “Mom” and “Dad” to 74 girls. In that time, she’s seen plenty of transformation – not just in the children’s outlook on life, but in her own as well. “Working alongside these girls has challenged me to become a better person and role model for kids that need it most,” she contends. “It’s not just a job, these girls are my family.”

Brackett Town Farms

Nichole Toney insists it all started when she and husband Chad inherited a bit of family property in North Carolina. A few chickens and a dog quickly followed. Then things snowballed.

“We all love animals,” she says with smile. “But the problem is we all love different animals.” At first, the family simply joked about starting a petting zoo, but as time went on the idea took hold. A visit to a petting farm in Ohio sealed the deal. Today, Brackett Town Farms serves as a free, therapeutic petting farm focused on helping those with special needs, grief and mental health issues.

“Animals have the amazing power to heal the heart and create a special connection,” Nichole explains. At Brackett Town Farms, those connections happen as visitors learn about the farm’s animals through educational, hands-on, small-group tours and summer volunteer work programs.

Caring for all the farm’s 80 animals means long hours, but Nichole wouldn’t have it any other way. “This is my calling,” she emphasizes. “I get to see children’s joy at learning about new animals and developmentally disabled adults laugh while they play fetch with our farm dog.”

Of course, the animals who call Brackett Town Farms home bask in all that attention, save for a grumpy hedgehog and a few alpacas. The pigs relish belly scratches, the goats compete for head pats and the miniature donkeys are always underfoot, trying to get a few cuddles, too. Little wonder that amidst all that love, Nicole has witnessed plenty of personal breakthroughs.

She recalls one developmentally disabled woman who found her voice at the farm. “She visited with each of the animals and had a wonderful time,” Nichole remembers. During her time at the farm, she even spoke several complete sentences – something her caregivers had been working on for nearly a year. It turns out, all she needed was few Brackett Town animals to serve as conversation partners.

Funky Chicken Rescue

Darcy Smith admits she’s always harbored a secret affinity for chickens, but it wasn’t until the retired police officer moved to the country that she realized the depth of her love affair.

It started with Funky Chicken, a scrawny little rooster she adopted from the Sacramento SPCA. “He was the sweetest chicken I’d ever met,” she insists. Darcy soon created a Facebook page for Funky, documenting his adventures, and fully smitten with the feathered creature, she found herself taking in more rescue birds.

Fortunately, her family shared her passion for helping animals, and together, they founded Funky Chicken Rescue. Today, the non-profit is home to more than 150 rescue chickens – along with a few rescued dogs, cats and horses. Darcy loves them all – but it’s her work with disabled chickens that has garnered the most attention. Blind chickens, cross-beak chickens and even chickens in wheelchairs live out their days on the idyllic 20-acre ranch.

Among her flock, you’ll even find survivors from California’s devastating Camp Fire. Their coop burned to the ground, but the chickens somehow made it out alive. “We call them our miracle chickens,” Darcy says.

Running a rescue is a lot of work, but Darcy says it’s worth every minute. “It’s a labor of love for animals, too many of which have been discarded by society,” she explains. “Chickens have their own personalities and they’re very smart. I just don’t think people realize how wonderful they are.”

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center

The animal ambassadors are a big draw at Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center, located in Johns Creek, Georgia. The nature center’s chickens, ducks and rabbits offer visitors a chance to touch, feed and learn about farm animals.

Some, like Sally the Chicken, even embark on adventures outside the preserve’s 46-acre site, visiting local libraries and schools. “Every day, our animal ambassadors teach the community the importance of kindness toward all the creatures on earth,” explains Mary Winder, the center’s education and program director. In return, Mary says she’s inspired by the delight of visitors as they explore and observe the native reptiles and farm animals that call Autrey Mill home.

In 2018, more than 5,500 individuals attended one of the nature center’s many programs. Through these educational initiatives, children, youth and adults learn about the environment, the region’s history, and the importance of protecting the ecosystem and caring for the animals who live here.

Mary notes that many of Autrey Mill’s animals were gifted from the community. “Most of them were taken in from individuals who had kept them as pets,” she explains, adding that their stories provide an opportunity to advocate for research and forethought before pet acquisitions.


Emily Blevins joined the FFA and started taking agriculture classes at Seaman High School in Topeka, KS, as a freshman. She thought it would be fun, but never expected it to have such a big impact on her life. The introduction of the student-run chicken coop has only magnified that impact on her and other students.

Emily’s teacher, Megan VanGordon, wanted her students to get more first-hand experience with animals. That’s why she proposed the class build a chicken coop. The coop would be entirely student operated. VanGordon hoped it would be a way to make kids who haven’t necessarily grown up around these animals fall in love with agriculture. For Emily and many other students, it has done exactly that.

Emily says that she gets to care for the chickens on a daily basis. She and the other students are responsible for feeding them, tending to the coop, and they even have to vet the chickens if any fall ill. They’re getting exactly the type of hands-on experience that their teacher, Mrs. VanGordon, thought would be so beneficial.

Now that Emily is close to graduating, she’s made it clear that she wants to do something involving agriculture. Many of her classmates feel similarly. Emily says, “It kind of turned my whole world upside down — in a good way.”

Seaman High School FFA

The FFA program at Seaman High School provides a hands on experience that not every school can provide. They built a chicken coop on the school grounds. The idea came into being from the school’s FFA Instructor, Megan VanGordon. She’s passionate about agriculture and her students, and wants her students to understand how agriculture impacts their lives. She says, “It’s a huge passion and drive of mine for me to teach kids where their food comes from.” The chicken coop provides some of that first-hand knowledge.

Megan had another motive behind building the coop. She calls it a way of tricking her students into falling in love with agriculture. Her students are entirely responsible for it — they’re feeding and caring for the chickens. One of her students, Emily, even says they had to figure out how to make the watering system in the coop work themselves. Megan is proud to see the coop fuel a passion for agriculture among her students. It’s also helping them get more students involved in the school.

Before the coop’s construction, Megan reached out to the school’s special education teacher, Raquel Carlson. Megan had an idea to get the school’s special education program, the Viking Warriors, involved with the coop. She wants the coop to be a place where her FFA members can teach the Viking Warrior students, and it’s become just that. The Viking Warriors come out to the coop and learn how to feed and care for the birds, and the FFA members get a chance to interact with peers that they wouldn’t normally see in class. It’s become a learning experience for both groups of students, and a successful experience for both.

The chicken coop has been a huge success, and now more classes are reaching out to collaborate. Megan says, “We even have a creative writing class who wants to go out there one day and write a creative writing story about the chickens.” It’s been great to see how much of an impact the chickens have had on the school, and how supportive the school has been as a whole. Clearly a lot more classes will be held in the coop.

Crystal and The Chickens

Eggs are the obvious benefit of a chicken coop. There are also a lot of intangible things that Crystal, a blind student with Seaman High School’s Viking Warrior program, gets from the coop. It brings her a way to get to know her classmates. And it helps prepare her for a world after high school.

Seaman High School’s Viking Warrior program is made up of students, like Crystal, who need a specialized learning environment. Raquel Carlson, the special education teacher who heads up the Viking Warrior program, has a goal of making her students feel like they’re contributing to the community during high school and beyond. Unfortunately, the nature of their classes means that they don’t have as many opportunities to interact with other school students. Then Megan VanGordon, the school’s FFA Instructor, invited Raquel to get her class involved with the chicken coop that her FFA students were building.

Raquel loved the invitation. She saw it as an opportunity to get Crystal and the other Viking Warrior students more involved with their classmates. That idea was confirmed after the coop was completed and she got see her Viking Warrior students interact with their FFA peers and with the chickens. She says that Crystal and the other Viking Warriors were nervous at first, but they learned quickly from the FFA students. Crystal and the rest of Raquel’s class were opening up, and they were interacting with the birds and their fellow students. When asked about Crystal, one of the FFA members, Emily, says “Seeing how much she enjoyed it, I realized that it was all worth it.”

Learn more about the FFA coop at Seaman High School

A Sanctuary for Animals – Big and Small

It started with a single horse named Andi. When Rosa Buonomo first met the 20-year-old mare, she was in serious trouble, struggling to fight off a raging infection and suffering after years of neglect. “I called every rescue organization I could find, but no one would help her,” Rosa recalls, “so, I ended up taking her on myself.”

It proved to be a transformative decision, leading Rosa to launch SBF Animal Rescue in 2014. Four years and 87 horses later, Rosa continues to open her heart – and her farm – to abused animals of stripes. “Our motto is ‘big or small, we take them all,’” she says with a smile. True to her word, SBF has been home to pigeons, deer, peacocks, emus, geese, ducks, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, cows – even pheasants and a fox.

For Rosa and the volunteers who help keep SBF going, the goal is to rehabilitate the abused animals, then place them with caring families. But, she admits, some animals are just too damaged to leave SBF. “I’ve had horses that are so starved, they can’t even walk,” she laments. Fortunately, most animals that find their way to SBF thrive under Rosa’s care.

It’s not just animals that flourish on the 26-acre farm. In 2017, SBF partnered with the local school district to connect special educations students with the organization’s work. Katherine, a school social worker and SBF volunteer, helped create the “Helping Hands” program, which combines classroom learning with on-site visits to the animal rescue farm.

“Horses and kids are a good combination, both for learning and healing,” Katherine explains. “The horses perk up when the school bus comes, and the kids made huge gains behaviorally, socially and emotionally.” As part of the program, the children planted a garden, learned about animal anatomy and health, and even wrote letters to their horse “pen pals.” But the biggest benefits went beyond academics.

“Too often, these kids feel like no one believes in them, no one hears them,” Katherine continues. “But coming here, they realized they had a purpose: to care for and become advocates for these animals. That was the surprising takeaway for me, the kids found a place where they really belonged.” The neglected animals who are nursed back to health at SFB Animal Rescue would surely agree.

The Chickens at Zachariah’s Acres

Zachariah’s Acres in Oconomowoc, WI, connects children and young adults with special needs to nature. They have accessible vegetable gardens with wheelchair height planting boxes, an orchard with pavement for easy wheelchair access, even a treehouse with an American with Disabilities Act compliant ramp system. Their most popular attractions are the custom-built, accessible chicken coops. The coops, one of which was funded by Nutrena, are accessible to anyone. The chickens are cared for by the visitors of Zachariah’s Acres, and the guests get more out of it than just caring for chickens.

Emily, Anna, and Elsa

Emily is a member of the Service Without Boundaries program at the YMCA in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Once a week, she and the group from the local YMCA visit Zachariah’s Acres to help, and Emily always looks forward to seeing the chickens. She even has a couple of favorite birds.

Maya, Holly, and the Chickens

Maya and her mother, Holly, were two of the first guests to visit Zachariah’s Acres. They had been regular visitors since the first event in 2015, and they were there when the chickens were added as a part of the facilities. When the birds were added, Maya was immediately in love with them. Holly, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic.


“I was hesitant. But seeing her—I would do anything for Maya—seeing her love and passion for these birds, you have to get over your own fear.”



Maya was all she had. So it’s only natural that Holly was a little protective of her, and chickens usually aren’t great to have around someone who has IV lines in. But as the two came out more and more, Holly saw how much her daughter loved being with the birds. She got more comfortable being around them, and with Maya being around them without her direct supervision.


“We have pictures of her in her wheelchair holding this huge chicken that took up her whole lap, and she’d show her doctor. And I’d cringe, because they’re not big fans of chickens with someone who has IV lines in. But it didn’t matter, and her doctors knew that.”



When Maya was at Zachariah’s Acres, and at the coops, she was able to experience a little bit of independence. She was able to go directly up to nesting boxes in her wheelchair and gather eggs herself. It gave her a sense of accomplishment and independence that she didn’t have in other spaces.


“She had to try to get it all in in three hours, because she had to try it all. It was a place where she wasn’t sick. She was just Maya. That’s all she wanted.”



Maya passed in the fall of 2017, and Holly has been dealing with that. She still goes to the places she went with Maya. She still goes to Zachariah’s Acres. She still visits the chicken coops. She still shares that with her daughter.


“It’s been really great for grieving to be able to come out here. Now I honestly will sit at the picnic tables because I love to listen to the chickens talk. Sometimes I record them so I can go home and listen to them. There’s something in hearing them.”



Maya had many different medical problems throughout her life, and she was confined to a wheelchair for most of that life. But despite those difficulties, she still made it a life worth living. And even though she had to leave Holly early, Maya still taught her mom so much. We’re proud to have helped Zachariah’s Acres give them the chickens to share with each other.

Andrew and the Flock

The flock at Zachariah’s Acres has helped thousands of guests with special needs build confidence and life skills. For the members of the YMCA Service Without Boundaries program in Oconomowoc, WI, seeing the flock of picking, pecking, egg-laying chickens is the highlight of their week. Especially for Andrew, a member of the YMCA program who lives with Down syndrome.

Andrew has been visiting the chickens at Zachariah’s Acres for a few years now. In that time he’s become an expert at egg gathering, and caring for the birds. For Andrew, like most people, caring for a flock of chickens is something he wouldn’t normally do. He gets to bond with animals and build his confidence with nature in a way that most young adults like him don’t ever get to experience.


“You can feel that he wants to be here. He wants to be with the chickens. He’s feeling that positive energy the chickens bring to us all. He’s doing something that he can’t do at home.”

-Lorrie, Volunteer with the YMCA


To Andrew and the many other guests who visit Zachariah’s Acres every day, it’s more than just “feeding birds.” He has a chance to get excited about a job well done, and to grow a little with every visit to the coop. That’s something the volunteers who work with Zachariah’s Acres or the YMCA have noticed as well.


“Andrew has learned to step out of his comfort zone. [He’s learned] to try something different, instead of just being passive, and sitting around, or letting other people do work for him. He’ll initiate that work…And that’s just come with time and comfort out here.”

-Emily, Head of Community Outreach at Zachariah’s Acres


Because of his time at Zachariah’s Acres, Andrew has built confidence, he’s developed valuable life skills, and he’s grown. That was given to him by a flock of chickens. That shows that any animal can have an amazing impact on a person’s life. That is why we’re so happy to support amazing places like Zachariah’s Acres.