Children
10:25 pm
Fri February 14, 2014

Community Members Fight to Keep Farm Animals at Children's Home in Winston-Salem

The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem is getting rid of its farm animals that are used for therapeutic mental health programs on campus. But a group of volunteers and community members are fighting to keep them there. 

For more than 100 years the Children’s Home in Winston-Salem has served youth from throughout Western North Carolina.

Half of the institution’s 212 acre campus includes a working farm with dozens of animals including a llama, goats and horses. One of the horses is named Annie. The President of Argentina gave her to President Bill Clinton while Clinton was in office.

“Annie went to Washington D.C. to be a police horse but they thought she was too small. One of the ladies who worked for the patrol grew up at the children’s home”, said Laura Gentry, an equine specialist at the children’s home.

“The horses act as facilitators and teach the children about life,” explains Gentry.

Daily, the Children’s Home serves nearly 200 youth through foster care and other alternative education programs. Seventeen of the children live on the grounds full time.

On a late Sunday afternoon, Gentry makes the rounds to feed some of the animals. “Do you hear that banging? That's Luna, our mini mule, and she would like to come into the barn.”

Many of these youth have been abused or suffer from behavioral or mental health issues. Gentry said the farm animals play an important role in the children’s psychological therapy.

“Some of them will come up and just nibble on the kids or they will turn away from them. It brings out things that the therapists can chime in on and talk about, like what the kids are feeling and which horses remind them of people they know, and see if there’s something that they want to talk about.”

The Children’s Home is also a haven for many of the animals that were neglected and abused. Police rescued Emma the pig during a drug raid in a local home.

But this non-profit farm is about to lose its animals. Earlier this month, board members voted to get rid of them. According to Ted Teague, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Children’s Home, the cost to run the farm is around $250,000 per year.

“Currently, the budget for the non-profit is around $4-million in revenue, and in order to deliver adequate services to the children we serve we are spending close to $5-million to provide those services,” said Teague.

Already the board has cut services to keep the Children’s Home afloat. Last October, it closed several treatment programs and a child development  center. Seventy-nine staff members were laid off.

The board also said the Children’s Home has to make these drastic cuts because it’s getting less support from the state.

“The state of North Carolina has decided to move away from residential programming, thus affecting the need for a lot of experiential happenings,” said Maurice Ware, President of the Children’s Home.

Ware said non-profit organizations like his are having difficulty getting enough reimbursement from the state for providing experiential services, such as horse riding therapies. According to Ware, several community groups are duplicating their treatments.

“A lot of services we would provide treatment-wise are now being provided by the community.  For example, there’s an increase in kids participating in programs at the YMCA, and in after school programs versus coming directly to our campus.”

He added, “We provide two types of foster care, treatment and therapeutic. We also provide intensive home services and day treatment for alternative education schools, so kids come and utilize the treatment component at our campus and then go back into their community.”

A group of volunteers and community members have started a petition on Change.org to keep the animals at the farm. They also want to save the community strawberry patch that’s ending this spring. Volunteers like Leigh Summer believe the farm can be self-sustaining.

“I would like to see the cattle herd shift and become a CSA type of cattle herd where people invest in a head of cattle and they purchase the meat that was grass fed in their own backyard. We also have plans to expand the hen house and raise chickens and sell eggs from that,” said Summer.

Teague said board members are talking with their sister organization, the Methodist Home for Children in Raleigh, about ways the two organizations could collaborate on programs and services. He says homes have been found for the all of the animals. But Gentry fears the children they are helping will suffer.

“It just breaks my heart. Everybody loves this place and it helps the children. A lot of them have never had love and they hug the animals. It’s wonderful, just wonderful,” said Gentry. 

The animals are expected to be off the farm by mid-spring. Gentry said the group has more than a thousand signatures on their petition. They plan to deliver it to board members next week.

Children's home volunteers introduce listeners to their animal friends on the farm, and explain why the animals are so important to helping youth who have been abused or neglected.