By Jennifer Kneice, TLS Parent and L4L Farm Board 2019 Vice President “Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.” Chris Grosser -- Jennifer recounts our students' first visit to an alpaca farm.
On August 14, Learning 4 Life Farm and the wonderful Road Runner Rascals Alpaca Ranch, owned by Julie Judge, created an opportunity for four teenagers on the autism spectrum to experience alpacas, but it began as a bad middle school dance. Surprisingly, it ended far beyond my expectations!
Entering Julie’s alpaca ranch outside Johnstown, Ohio, I saw a big herd of alpacas congregated behind fencing. A few teenage boys with autism appeared at different places throughout the ranch. There was no interaction. Moms and grandmas huddled in a corner of fencing away from everyone and everything else. Oh boy, there’s a lot of work to do, I thought.
As Julie was gathering feed to persuade the alpacas to be social, a great outpouring of alpacas ran into the open field. A timid boy named Christian gawked from afar. I urged him to follow the alpacas with me -- he did!
Charlie, another teen, asked me, “What do we do with alpacas?” I urged Charlie to tell them a story. I was half joking. I had an image of Charlie telling his furry new friends about Percy Jackson, which was his special interest the last time I knew. However, something much more magical happened. Charlie began reciting “The Three Little Pigs” in all the varying voices. He entered a new realm and began walking in between groups of alpacas as if he belonged there. It was amazing!
I heard a small voice behind me as I took photos of the animals on my cell phone. Christian’s mild whisper said, “I’m scared of the alpacas.” I told my new friend, “you don’t need to be afraid, the alpacas won’t hurt you.” An extremely wooly alpaca draped in lush brown seemed ever so lazy. I approached this beauty and began petting her. Something, possibly a squirrel or grass growing, took away my attention. I stepped forward. But hark, I spied out of the corner of my eye Christian petting the same mild beast!
Another student and parent pair, Zach and his dad, loved walking through the alpacas together, arms locked around each other. It was beautiful.
Our last friend Jacob never made it past the cars this day, but time will tell. If I was a betting girl, I’d wager that he too will become smitten by alpaca love.
So our segregated “Middle School Dance” ended with lots of mingling. With memories brighter than I could have expected, with images that will forever dazzle my heart. The glory of it all is: this is just the beginning. If an hour with these animals could make two timid young men express themselves by petting them and speaking at length, what may be possible with the complete alpaca therapy program we are planning?