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.
We have our alpaca names!
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!
Look out! New things on the farm
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.
One of our alpacas has a name!
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!
Visiting the Alpacas
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!
Beehives are going strong!
Our bee program is growing thanks to community support and hard work from our volunteers and students. This spring we put in three new honey bee hives to replace the two that did not make it through the winter and moved our apiary to a new permanent location at the top of our farm field hill.
With guidance from Beekeeper Bob, our students on the autism spectrum have done a fantastic job working our bees this season - favorite tasks include lighting and using the smoker to keep the bees calm; pulling out frames to look at the bee brood (baby bees in their comb nursery cells), bees, pollen and honey; and feeding the bees with pollen patties and sugar water.
Two hives got off to a really good start this spring and are going very strong, but unfortunately the third hive did not accept its queen. We had to put a new queen in the hive and that time the hive took off. Now, the queen is laying eggs to make new bees and they are starting to make honey thanks in part to a few frames of brood (baby bees in comb cells) from our other two strong hives.
Our two strong hives are doing great and making LOTS of honey - this is terrific for a first year hive, especially. We harvested 90 pounds of honey with our students this week and left some in the hives to keep the bees strong for the fall and winter.
We have been checking the bees each month for varroa mites, which can cause hive death over the winter. In August we did find the mite levels were above 3% in two hives, so after we off honey we put medication those hives to control the mites (formic acid patties).
Stay tuned and look for our honey at our Friday Student Farm Stands this fall.
Our students on our bee program:
"I like that we sell honey to other people." - Lennon, grade 8
"What I like about the Bee Program is that we actually get to work with the bees . . we sometimes get to take home our own honey and it actually tastes good. Beekeeper Bob is REALLY nice and he doesn't boss us around a lot. I was terrified of bees when I was younger but thanks to the Bee Program, my fear of bees is no more." - Ava, grade 7
"I enjoy going out to the hives and extracting honey. I also like moving the bees around." - Nathanael, grade 7
"I like the bees and putting honey in jars." - Malachi, grade 7
"I liked it when we were dispensing the honey in the bear jars. Also when we got to take a small sample of honey home." - Nate, grade 8
Thank you to Whole Kids Foundation and The Bee Cause Project for a generous grant to support our 2022 bee program with our kids on the autism spectrum, and to Conrad Hive and Honey and the Doran Family for donating equipment. Our biggest thanks, as always, to our own Beekeeper Bob Hooker who makes our bee program possible!
As Learning 4 Life Farm grows, autistic students already blooming
Dave Weidig, Newark Advocate, July 28, 2022; Columbus Dispatch Sunday, August 14, 2022
JOHNSTOWN — The alpacas are coming! The alpacas are coming!
The Learning 4 Life Farm, located at The Learning Spectrum (TLS) North East education center near Johnstown, is steadily building to full completion after two years. And getting the therapy animals next January means the seven-acre facility, also featuring gardens, is one step closer to providing job training for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum.
"The alpacas are easier to take care of, and they're good for therapeutic training and therapy," Learning 4 Life Farm director of operations Amy Hurst said during last year's barn raising event. "The kids really like the animals, and they've been making trips to nearby alpaca farms."
"Once we get the alpacas, we want to bring in students from other local school districts," Hurst said last week during a summer open house which updated the community on progress. "We just got an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) grant from USDA for the well, pollinator habitat strip, composting facility for (alpaca) manure, and access driveway out to the barn."
The 36x80 foot barn, which will house alpacas on one side and a work space/gift shop on the other, was raised in October. During the winter and spring, electricity, the septic system, roof and plumbing were put in. The last steps are a concrete floor, drilling a well and finishing the interior, which will include a walk-in cooler and HVAC.
Phase 3, the final one for the project, costs $137,871, and also includes five 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 to date, $62,222 has come from individuals, $52,372 from businesses and $22,621 from donated materials and services. The rest has been provided by grants and TLS sponsorship.
"The Jeff Robinson family sold a vintage Porsche and donated the money to us, which paid for our septic system," Hurst said. "That was amazing, very generous, and numerous other foundations and sponsors have chipped in."
A hoop house has been built for growing flowers and vegetables the year around, and is USDA-equipped with raised beds.
Phase 1 of the project, completed in fall of 2020, was funded with $25,000 in donations from community members and includes the driveway, elevated barn pad, drainage and bio retention rain garden. A fruit, vegetable, herb and flower garden is taken care of by high school, middle school and younger students and has been expanded to 2,500 square feet. Two beehives were also added to the property.
During last week's open house, flowers, vegetables and herbs were for sale that were grown by the students. They have strengthened their job and life skills by watering, weeding and harvesting vegetables, cutting and and arranging flowers, building the raised garden beds in the hoop house, and learning beekeeping.
"They have all independently thrived and developed their skills," said TLS North East high school teacher Carmella Bojarzin of Newark. "They enjoy taking home the vegetables which came out of their skills. We're giving them the training they need to go into the world, and we work on their social skills. They understand money and taxes."
"They're excited for the community to be here and see what they're doing," said Kelly Kinnear of Mount Vernon, a para-professional at TLS North East middle school. "They've learned to make bouquets, and they love making soap. The students built the bee boxes and painted them, and the ones who were comfortable with it, got involved with the beekeeping. This really helps them build confidence, and they're doing more in the classroom, learning interviewing skills."
The TLS board of directors is delighted to see the progress of the students, and excited for what the future holds for them. Learning 4 Life Farm is looking to put a big dent in statistics that say 85 percent of young adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed. It hopes to launch its full job training program next year.
Board member Matt McEnery of Westerville works for MAC Construction in Worthington. His middle son, Charlie, is on the autism spectrum.
"I started working with Jill Medley (TLS executive director), building projects in Canal Winchester, and I was blown away working with her," McEnery said. "I wanted to see what I could do to assist, and Jill invited me to become a board member."
At Learning 4 Life Farm, McEnery and MAC Construction have given advice and provided materials, time and labor. They have helped with the barn construction, the raised gardens, the planning of the pastures, and even adding modular classrooms for TLS North East School.
"The Learning Spectrum is growing like crazy," McEnery said. "It's something that is needed in Central Ohio."
Angela Ramos-Fields of Columbus originally got Spectrum communications involved with Learning 4 Life through a grant when she was employed there. Now part of IBM network services through Kyndryl, she aims to do the same with her new company.
"I'm still actively involved as (TLS) board vice president, and I want to make them (IBM) aware of the plan and really get them involved," she said. "My son is 21 and attended The Learning Spectrum in Columbus, so it's a decades long relationship and I want to support all of their endeavors."
"I envision a lot more coming out of this (Learning 4 Life Farm) initiative," Ramos-Fields said. "The farm gives them the work attributes they will need. It polishes up their skills so they can live their most fulfilled lives."
Summer Camp Gardening
This year at the 4-week long Learning 4 Life Farm summer camp in June and July 2022, students gardened in our hoophouse, student vegetable garden and rain garden. In the rain garden students helped maintain it by picking and pulling the weeds. Hoop House activities consisted of harvesting flowers in the mornings and curating bouquets to sell at the farm stand in the evening. Students also sowed a cover crop in some of the hoop house raised beds to prepare for fall fertility.
Students enjoyed picking veggies all summer. After picking the students washed and prepared the veggies to be sold at the farm stand. The farm stand was a big success and the students were a major contributor to this. Not only did they prepare the veggies, flower bouquets, and homemade soap, but they actively participated in selling farm stand items to supporters.
Get more details about Learning 4 Life Farm Summer Camp HERE - enrollment for 2023 starts in March.