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.”
Caring People Alliance
At a Boys & Girls Club in North Philadelphia, there’s a small animal zoo that’s doing big things. Run by the Caring People Alliance, the zoo’s bunnies, guinea pigs and pet rats teach youth about responsible pet ownership, build compassion for animals, and provide a space for troubled kids to relax and reset.
“Every day, I feel like I am making a difference, both to the kids and the animals,” says Jessica Bachrach, who serves as the coordinator for the program, called Caring Paws. “Sometimes we talk about the animals, but other times, we’ll talk about things that are going on in the world or in their lives.” Often, the animals serve as a bridge to important life lessons.
Given the animals’ relatively short life spans, nearly every child experiences the sorrow associated with saying goodbye to a beloved animal friend. “For some kids, it may be their first experience with death; for others, it’s an opportunity to talk about the death of a friend or family member,” Jessica explains. “We work through all those hard feelings together.”
When the children talk about how Caring Paws has impacted them, many say that it’s fun or they like helping to care for the animals. But some find bigger lessons, too. Before Sophia started participating in Caring Paws, she was afraid of rats. Now, she’s discovered that it’s not fair to judge animals based on their reputation. “I learned that not all animals are what they seem to be,” she explains and admits that the pet rats are now among her favorite Caring Paws critters.
That’s part of the magic at Caring Paws, where kids learn as much about themselves as the animals they care for. “Animals have a unique power to impact the lives of people,” Jessica emphasizes. “They depend on us for everything, so taking care of them can be empowering.” No matter your age, it seems we could all learn a thing or two from the kids and animals at Caring Paws.
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.”
Ohlone Humane Society
Founded in 1983, Ohlone Humane Society (OHS) aims to care for all animals – from family pets to local wildlife. It’s not a shelter, but the volunteer group has a major impact on the communities it serves, offering assistance for struggling pet owners, organizing foster care for kittens, rehabilitating injured wildlife, and spreading joy (and education) through its therapy-animal programs.
“Helping animals and people in the community is hard work, but so very rewarding,” insists Natalia Lebedeva, who serves on the group’s Board of Directors. Through her work, and that of OHS’s many dedicated volunteers, the non-profit strives to better the lives of all animals with a full-circle approach to community animal welfare.
The group’s Meals-on-Wheels program distributes 200-250 pounds of pet food each week and OHS’s wide-ranging animal-assisted interventions bring activities, therapy, education and fun to schools, senior care facilities, hospitals and similar organizations. They even offer regular “Read-to-a-Dog” sessions at the local library.
“The dogs are such good listeners,” says Raj, the father of a once-struggling reader. “They never corrected our son’s pronunciation or point out mistakes.” Instead, Raj says the canines’ happy attitudes rubbed off on the whole family, reducing anxiety and helping to transform a reluctant student into a voracious reader.
But OHS isn’t just for domestic animals. Each year, the non-profit cares for more than 800 injured, orphaned and displaced urban wildlife at its Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Here trained volunteers nurse raccoons, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, birds, reptiles and more back to health. It’s just one more way OHS lives out its mission to advocate for all creatures, big and small.
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.”
Simple Sparrow Care Farm
Eight years ago, Jamie Tanner and her husband Eric purchased a small farm, intent on giving their children the experience of learning, growing and healing surrounded by animals. It turns out, many local families wanted the same thing, so in December 2017, Simple Sparrow Care Farm was born.
While relatively few care farms currently operate in the U.S., they are common in other parts of the world, especially Europe. Like the name implies, these farms tap into therapeutic agricultural practices to facilitate healing. At Simple Sparrow, guests learn to care for land, gardens and animals. Along the way, they become better equipped to care for themselves and others.
“Animals have an innate ability to accept, comfort and calm us,” Jamie explains. “This ability lends itself to healing psychological traumas.” Equally important, the life skills learned at the farm extend well beyond the barnyard gate, vividly underscoring the importance of kindness, gentleness and self-control and empowering individuals to nurture positive relationships and leave toxic ones behind.
“We are here for a purpose: to care for the earth and all the animals that live here with us,” Jamie says. “When we help another creature live up to their full potential, we live up to ours as well.”
Controlled Chaos Ranch & Rescue
Noelle Waller, founder of Controlled Chaos Ranch & Rescue, admits she has a soft spot for animals – especially rabbits. After years of fostering a myriad of animals for other rescue organizations, she launched her own non-profit, focused on rehabilitating farm animals, exotic birds and rabbits (of course).
However, the Oklahoma-based operation serves more than animals in-need. A former teacher, Noelle partnered with the local public library to initiate what might the country’s only program pairing struggling young readers with cuddly rabbits. Dubbed “Read to Somebunny,” anecdotal evidence from local teachers suggests the program is delivering tangible results.
“Letting children benefit from the non-judgmental presence of a rescued animal helps them gain confidence and raises their self-esteem, while also allowing them to improve their reading skills,” Noelle says. In many cases, students who participate in the program require noticeably less literacy support at school.
Harry, a fuzzy little Jersey Wooly rabbit, is a favorite. “He just melts across the laps of all the children who choose to read to him,” Noelle explains. But it wasn’t always that way. When Harry arrived at Controlled Chaos Ranch, his fur was matted to his skin, a clear sign of neglect and abuse.
“We got him trimmed down, removed all the mats and realized he was the most appreciative bunny,” Noelle recalls. Soon enough, Harry was basking in the love and attention from the library program’s young readers, just one more success story for Controlled Chaos Ranch.