Big changes at The Learning 4 Life Farm! Our past Director of Operations, Amy Hurst, has sadly left The Farm. She has poured blood, sweat and tears into this program and it wouldn't be where it is without her. We are thankful for all of her hard work!!
With that being said, we have 3 new staff members running The Farm! Jamie Kemp is our new Director of Operations at The Farm. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amanda Tompkins is the new Director of Education at the Farm. You can reach her at email@example.com
I, Cortney Krownapple, Fundraising and Events Coordinator, along with social media and marketing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are so excited to be apart of this amazing program! We have so many visions and plans to put in motion hopefully very soon. We are taking this on and trying to figure it all out, so bare with us as we jump on new here and try to navigate it all!
I plan to keep up on here as much as I can with what is going on here at The Farm and how you can help out or see what we are up to.
We did just start a website with our own Learning 4 Life Merchandise! Check out the page! The hats are a hit!
We are also partnering with Orchard Lane Flowers on these beautiful hand painted ornaments. 20% of the proceeds come back to The Farm!
Please dont hesitate to reach out with any questions!! Thanks all!!!
Newark Advocate, July 27, 2023 - Dave Weidig, Reporter
READ THE ARTICLE ON THE ADVOCATE WEBSITE HERE
JOHNSTOWN ― It was a bit of an awkward beginning, both for the students and alpacas, when the animals first came to the Learning 4 Life Farm in April.
"You had the kids staying on one side of the barn and the alpacas staying on the other," said Carmella Bojarzin, transition lead and summer camp leader for The Learning Spectrum North East school, where the 7-acre farm is located, on U.S. 62, near Johnstown. "But then it transitioned into the kids jumping right into it, putting harnesses on, petting them and walking them around."
It has also been quite the transition for the farm, which started to take shape nearly three years ago and is now ready to provide job training for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum in Licking County. The alpaca therapy program is one of the few in the world specially tailored for autism, and students also tend to diverse gardens, selling their produce and herbs, and take care of several beehives.
"It's been a real fun camp, and it's been awesome to watch the kids and alpacas grow together," Bojarzin said last week during an open house at the farm. "Alpacas (a much smaller version of the camel family) are very calm, and they have low environmental impact. It gives the kids confidence, and they take a leadership role with the alpacas.
"It's pretty cool for them, working with an animal they've never cared for and that listens to you. They stay calm, and it keeps the alpacas calm," Bojarzin said. "They loaded in the straw, and the kids do it all, from start to finish."
Ohio State University student Ayanna Williams, known as the "alpaca whisperer" at the farm, was moved to tears watching the interaction.
"I've worked with horses, and alpacas are much nicer than horses," Williams said. "It's pretty intense, seeing the kids really settle into their personalities with them. I literally cried my eyes out, watching their transformation."
Barb Kendall, of New Albany, who raised alpacas for a number of years, was at the open house, providing a different outlet for the students, and has also seen a transformation. She was spinning fiber into yarn and works with the kids felting the fiber, which enables them to eventually make things.
"They were a little hesitant at first, but then they picked it up," Kendall said. "They did real well with it. It gives them something to work on, to complete a project."
The students have also had a significant role in making the farm a therapeutic space for future students, creating organic gardens for food and putting up pollinator habitats. It enables them to develop job skills, confidence and ability to aid them in working towards employment in the community.
Learning 4 Life director of operations Amy Hurst smiles proudly when she thinks how far the farm has come. It now has a fully operational barn and shop, pastures, gardens and greenhouses.
"We now have 30 raised garden beds, and are putting up a smaller hoop house," Hurst said. "We put in a new rain garden and a bunch of pollinator gardens."
The 36-by-80-foot barn, which houses alpacas on one side and a workspace/gift shop on the other, was raised last October. Electricity, the septic system, roof and plumbing were put in, and the last steps were laying a concrete floor, drilling a well and finishing the interior, which includes a walk-in cooler and HVAC.
The last touches are being put on Phase 3, the final one for the project. It cost $137,871 and includes 5 acres of three fenced pastures for the alpacas and a 1.5-acre organic garden for cut flowers, herbs, vegetables and a pumpkin patch. The community has been extremely supportive of the venture overall. Of the $193,765 in expenses in the first two phases, $62,222 came from individuals, $52,372 from businesses and $22,621 from donated materials and services.
The rest has been provided by grants and TLS sponsorship. An Environmental Quality Incentives Program grant from USDA provided for the well, pollinator habitat strip, composting facility for (alpaca) manure and access driveway out to the barn.
Hurst said it all couldn't have been done without community support. R&L Excavating of Newark provided drainage, the driveway and placed a 1,400-foot pollinator strip, working with the Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District.
"I enjoy doing the work anyway, and to see what they're doing with it, is very satisfying," said Rodney Lothes, owner of R&L Excavating. "You can really see the progress they're making."
TASC Drywall donated insulation and materials for the barn/workshop. Board President Matt McEnery, of Westerville, vice president for MAC Construction in Worthington, partnered with the kids to put in the walls for the workshop, and they painted them. His middle son, Charlie, is on the autism spectrum.
Learning 4 Life Farm will be the fourth stop Saturday on the 14th annual Ohio Ride for Autism, and the TLS Alpaca Trot, a mile walk and run, will be held there Nov. 4. But Hurst is especially excited that the farm is ready to fulfill its main mission.
"When the school year starts, we're ready to start our job training, and we're inviting all of our local districts to partner with us," she said. "Some districts have expressed interest, working with the OOD (Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities), and we want to work with the county schools and Licking County DODD (Department of Developmental Disabilities)."
An estimated 85 percent of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, and only 17% live on their own.
"We really want to change those numbers," Hurst said.
We were so thrilled to bring our six alpacas to Learning 4 Life Farm in April 2023, and thanks to support from Road Runner Rascals Alpaca Ranch, our wonderful volunteers and staff, and hard work from our students, our job training and informal alpaca therapy programs are underway for youth on the autism spectrum and related disabilities, and we're looking forward to launching our Animal Assisted Alpaca Psychotherapy program this fall in partnership with The Learning Spectrum!
Our students worked hard starting in April to care for our alpacas, cleaning their barn pen and drylot, putting them out to pasture, and feeding and watering. In July the alpacas and the students were ready to begin haltering the animals themselves and walking them around our drylot. Students and visitors also love to feed the alpacas - we've got them eating out of our hands, literally, and it provides a lot of joy for both our kids and our alpacas.
Stay tuned as we begin taking our alpacas to The Learning Spectrum school sites to begin Animal Assisted Alpaca Therapy with students ages Prek-12th grade on the autism spectrum and related disabilities!
Since my last post, I have completed 2 classes and am working on my third towards my certification.
The first class, The Human Animal Bond, was about just as it sounds. The relationship between humans and animals. The difference in how we see animals is based on the purpose that animals have in our lives (work, companion, livestock), our view of animals, and our culture/experience with animals in our lives.
Definitions from Pet Partners:
Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI)Animal-assisted interventions are goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness.
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-oriented, planned, structured, and documented therapeutic intervention directed by health and human service providers as part of their profession. This is a broad definition and under this falls Animal Assisted Psychotherapy, Animal Assisted Speech or OT. The person leading the session first has to be qualified in that field (degree, licensed) and then have the training for animal assisted therapy.
Animal-Assisted Education (AAE)Animal-assisted education is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills, and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented.
Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA)Animal-assisted activities provide opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability.
The second class, Legal and Ethical Issues in Animal Assisted Psychotherapy, was focused on how to manage your practice while taking care of the animals and your clients. We discussed the terminology and definitions of different types of work with animals. A big portion of our time was spent on adjusting thinking and wording from something like ‘I use animals in my therapy practice’ to “I have animals assisting me in my therapy practice’. Taking breaks is something as therapists we know we need to do between clients. It also stressed the importance of your animal therapy partner having the appropriate space and time to take breaks, allowing them to have a space if they choose not to participate on a certain day. We talked about insurance and consent forms.
The class I am currently taking is Animal Behavior and Training. Our first assignment was to look at the evolution of the animal you are going to work with the most in therapy. For us this is the alpaca. From my experience living in Peru, I know the background of alpacas. How they navigate their natural environment. Their original purpose was as a pack animal used to carry people and goods across the rocky mountainous terrain, food, fiber, religious sacrifice and then eventually pets and agritourism in Peru. I have been fortunate enough in the past week to visit 2 farms that have alpacas and do tours. They have many people around touching their animals. I watched some videos of people training their alpacas with a clicker and of alpacas visiting nursing homes. On the farm visits, I learned that alpacas each have their own signals that they are stressed. Just like humans. Some alpacas might hum or flare their nostrils or their bottom lip droops when they are stressed. It will take some time for us to learn the signs our alpacas.
My next step in my training is to go do my in person training at Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado. This is an intense 3 day 8 hours a day training for professionals (clinicians, occupational therapists, psychologists, counselors, speech therapists, etc).
Our alpacas are getting closer to coming home. We are all so very excited. My next entry will hopefully be filled with information about my work getting to know our alpacas and what I learned at my in person training.
Great job choosing the names, kids! Each TLS classroom came up with a name idea and each school site voted for their favorite. The winning name classrooms will get popcorn parties.
TLS North East - Johnstown - PreK - BUCK
TLS South - Canal Winchester - Primary 1 - BINGBONG
The Learning Spectrum, LTD - Central - PreK - CHEWY
Our fencing is going in this week and we're finishing barn construction to get the water running. We hope to bring the alpacas to the farm around March 15.
Road Runner Rascals Alpaca Ranch, The Country Club at Muirfield Village Foundation, Autism Speaks, MAC Construction Inc. U.S. Department of Agriculture Licking County Soil & Water Conservation District thank you for your support for our alpaca program.
Hello! My name is Molly Bochenek. I am a Licensed Independent Social Worker. I began working for The Learning Spectrum in January 2018. From early on I knew that I wanted my career to be in mental health. I decided out of all the choices getting my masters degree in social work was the way I wanted to go. After receiving my MSW, I have had the opportunity to work with many different populations/locations: a dialysis unit, residential treatment center for children and adolescents, a children's hospital, a college campus counseling center, private practice, the US embassy in Lima Peru, and finally TLS.
My interest/love of animals has been present for as long as I can remember. My first experiences with the human animal bond were with my own pets. Taking care of them, playing with them and of course their empathy were important throughout my life. My first unofficial experience with animal assisted therapy was when I worked at the college. I say it was unofficial because my dog was not trained and it started as a happy accident
Herbert (my English Bulldog) came to work with me one day and I had more students stop to talk to me than I ever had before. One of my most difficult students came that day. They were always very angry and frustrated but Herbert gave my student something else to focus on. Even though my student did not want to touch or to have Herbert touch them, they were able to talk calmly and express their frustrations/worries in a constructive way. From then on, they preferred if Herbert was with me when we met. I have watched my own children with our family pets and how they have found understanding and comfort with them.
Sadly Herbert is no longer with us. Our current family pets are Blaze the hedgehog. He has made some guest appearances at all 3 schools and is still requested by some. We also have Lulu, our boxer that we adopted from Peru. She speaks both Spanish and English. Our newest fur family member is Crash, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. My hope is that Crash will grow into his paws so he stops crashing into things and into a great therapy partner.
My fascination with alpacas started during our time living in Peru. Alpacas and llamas are everywhere. Many of them are “wild” but many are also trained to be docile to take pictures and greet tourists. I was not involved with the beginning process of Learning 4 Life Farm but when they started talking more about the therapy alpacas, my interest increased. As the date neared for the animals coming, the focus shifted to how they were going to use the animals in therapy. This is where I came in. I started with just researching animal assisted therapy, then the malpractice insurance, then the training and finally the billing. After all the research, I was happy to take on the therapy aspect of the alpacas.
I am starting the training program through the Animal Assisted Therapy Program of Colorado. Once I am finished with my classes, I will receive a Certificate of Education in Animal Assisted Psychotherapy. I am just beginning my first class, The Human Animal Bond!
We’re so excited to bring alpacas to Learning 4 Life Farm this spring. We plan to provide animal assisted alpaca therapy at all three TLS school sites beginning in August 2023, weekly throughout the school year for each site. Stay tuned for more details!
As of December 12, 2022 our brand new heated hoop houses are up! At the start of the sping we will be able to grow our own starts. Wonderful job and huge thank to Yoder Produce Supplies for getting everything set up and looking great.
A special thank you to Valero Texas Open Benefit for Children for funding this project!
Another new update is that on January 6, 2023 our senior class assembled our new boardfork from Johnny's Selected Seeds. The boardfork will be used to improve soil structure and health.
Today the kids had the opportunity to frame out the utility room and walk-in cooler inside our new alpaca farm. The students at TLS Northeast-Johnstown and employees of MAC Construction Company Inc. are excited to see the workshop taking shape! We plan to finish up tomorrow and will be ready to add plumbing and electric.
Thank you so much to our wonderful volunteers and the MAC Construction team who are donating their time and expertise.
Learning 4 Life farm would like to announce the first offical name for one of your alpacas- NUGGET! The kids did an amazing job picking out the names at TLS North East- Johnstown class room. Thanks to a generous $2000 donation to our Alpacas for Autism fund by the Culbertson Family.
Want to name an alpaca? Your donation of $2000 will give you the right to name one of the six alpacas that will be coming to live at Learning 4 Life Farm this spring. Our alpacas will be providing job training and animal assisted therapy to students on the autism spectrum.
Huge thank you to the Culbertson Family and the Krownapple Family who have raised over $3500 towards our Alpacas for Autism fund at the TLS ALpaca Trot this year- The Krownapple family will be naming an alpaca too!
Want to donate and have the opportunity to name an alpaca? Visit our Donate tab or click the button below to start supporting our children growing farm!
We had a wonderful vists to Road Runner Rascals Alpaca Ranch today—we got some training on haltering and walking the alpacas. Met some new baby alpacas too—this one is one day old! Thank you so much to Julie Judge for taking the time to train us on alpaca care and handling, what a wonderful community partner.
The Make It Fit Foundation, Ante4autism, Autism Speaks The Country Club at Muirfield Village Foundation thank you so much for your support to help us bring alpacas to our own farm!