11:31 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Animal Adoptions Halted at Winston-Salem Children’s Home

The board at the Children’s Home in Winston-Salem has stopped the adoption of its farm animals for now.

Leigh Summer and her family volunteer their time each week to take care of the animals at the Children's Home in Winston-Salem. They are also working with other supporters to develop programs that will help keep the animals at the farm.
Credit Keri Brown

The Children’s Home serves nearly 200 youth through foster care and other alternative education programs. Seventeen kids live on the grounds full time. Many of the animals on the property are used in experiential therapy programs that help children diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Last month, Children’s Home officials said their expenses exceeded their income and they began giving away their animals to save money. Two of the larger horses were removed and found homes locally.

But now all animal adoptions are on hold.  

Volunteers and community members who support the Children’s Home have collected more than 1,500 signatures on a petition to keep the animals at the farm. Leigh Summer, a long-time volunteer, says the group has a detailed plan on how to make the farm self-sustaining, profitable and able to keep the animals.

“We plan to do that by the sales of fresh free range eggs to the community, we hope to sell locally grown produce and we hope to build a program to sell grass fed beef to the community as well,” says Summer.

“Certainly numbers in the petition mattered but what really caused us to reconsider was the constructive nature of the proposal,” said Ted Teague, chair of the Children’s Home Board.

Teague says the $250,000 price tag to maintain the farm and other experiential therapy programs is something they simply can’t afford. “The compelling thing about the new proposal is that it would cause that expense to go away and essentially the farm would be a self-supporting therapeutic source.”

Right now, 70-plus animals are staying at the children’s home, including a llama, pigs, and goats. Volunteer and former contract employee Laura Gentry works with the equine program and says it greatly benefits children suffering from behavioral and mental health issues. 

“I’m hoping that as we progress and get some money coming in that we can hire more equine assisted learning therapists. An ultimate goal is to have several groups working with all of these kids and we could have kids come in from the community,” says Gentry.

Teague also hopes the new proposed plan can help fill some financial gaps in the therapeutic programs.

“One hopes that as time goes on it would be even more than self-supporting but might fund some of those therapies that we can’t get reimbursed for otherwise. We don't have a lot of good news in child mental health care these days and I’m really excited that this is shaping up to be a good news story,” says Teague.

Sarah Summer, 16, and her younger brother, Sam, 13, volunteer at the Children’s Home taking care of the animals. They’re excited that growing community support is potentially giving this facility new life.

“Before the board voted to close the farm I was planning on doing a service project here. We have changed the goal of the service project now and I’m going to be remodeling the chicken coup and making it usable, so we can sell the eggs,” says Sarah.   Her brother Sam adds, “I’m glad the animals are staying because I grew up with them. This ushers in a new meaning to advancing the farm.”

Teague is cautiously optimistic about the volunteers' plans for the farm. He says a lot of community support is needed.

“We are not in a position to make long-term commitments about any particular program. We are talking with the volunteer leadership about time horizons for particular initiatives that they might have,” says Teague.

Meanwhile, volunteers are busy preparing the Children’s Home strawberry patch for the public. They expect the crops will be ready for picking in May.

Children's Home official explains why the board is giving volunteers some time to put their plan in place and why they are keeping the animals at the farm.

Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news