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Healing Farm

Healing Farm

Olivia Ahrens

Olivia Ahrens

Healing Farm

Olivia Ahrens


Dedication To my parents for teaching me all of life’s lessons in the midst of adversity and for being my biggest supporters. I love you. To all with disabilities. You are not alone and you are loved.




I would like to thank Freestyle Academy for giving me this opportunity to explore my creative side and create something meaningful. I would not have been able to learn how to use the tools used to make this book if it weren’t for Ms. Parkinson, my Design teacher. In addition, my English teacher played a huge role in helping me create my final product. Mr. Greco, thank you so much for putting in your time to work with me and help me get to a point where I feel confident in my writing.


Table of Contents Preface 9 Close To Home 18 Introduction 10 Behind the Smiles 12

Bio 38

Backed By Science 22

Giving To Givers 30

Works Cited 36

Conclusion 34

Preface I chose this subject because I have been a volunteer for Animal Assisted Happiness since my Freshman year of high school and it has a very special place in my heart. I wanted to learn more about the non profit itself, as well as the scientific benefits that animals provide. In addition, working with the disabled has always been of interest to me, especially having a mother in a wheelchair. I faced a good amount of challenges while producing this project. I have always struggled with time management throughout my academic career, so to no surprise, this was an issue for me in this assignment. Towards the end, I got better at managing my time, but the stress from a strict deadline influenced me to stay at Freestyle more hours and put in more time and effort. I hope that the readers of this book take away the beauty of this organization and appreciate the amount of time and energy it took to develop the final product of this book.



Introduction Imagine a peaceful farm. Goats, bunnies, chickens, pigs, and other animals roam around this beautiful place. Now imagine the farm filled with smiling children experiencing the healing properties that animals bring. The non profit organization, Animal Assisted Happiness, however, is not imaginary. According to an article from Healthline, “Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.� Animal Assisted Happiness delivers these healing powers by connecting humans and animals, and bringing smiles to children with disabilities. Not only do their animals bring joy to the kids, but the volunteers and workers also get to experience the joyful effects of the human-animal bond and see the happiness the animals bring to those they are serving.

As a volunteer for AAH, I have made friendships with people around my age, some older and some younger, that have a variety of disabilities. Despite our differences, we are all able to come together to share the healing process of animal therapy. I personally struggle with anxiety and depression; however, while volunteering for this organization, I can feel myself calm down and experience the moment. I always find myself with a smile when I’m around the kids I work with, as well as the animals. Their new farm is a beautiful, peaceful, yet playful environment where smiles are waiting to be shared. They have goats, pigs, guinea pigs, bunnies, chickens, horses, alpacas, sheep, ducks, and birds. Along a walkway going through the whole farm, you can find all of these animals in their own play pens and designated sections. As you make your way through, you will be directed with colorful signs made by kids and volunteers, that point you in the direction of certain animals. Previous page: Goat at AAH Farm



Mosaic at AAH Farm

Behind the Smiles A

nimal Assisted Happiness was established in 2009 by Vicki Amon-Higa and her husband Peter. The journey began in the couple’s own backyard in Los Altos. As it grew, AAH moved to Gilroy in 2011, Full Circle Farm in 2015, and finally, their current location, Baylands Park, in 2017. They allow public visits to the farm on certain days, and children with special needs can make an appointment to visit the animals. Their mission statement reads: “Our mission is to enrich the lives of youth with needs through barnyard animal interactions at our Smile Farm and mobile visits, creating moments of joy and happiness throughout our AAH community. We provide barnyard buddies so children and their family members can ‘experience the smiles only animals can bring’. Our vision is a ‘Million Smiles.’” Simone Haroush, the Program Manager for Animal Assisted Happiness, is in charge of many things on the farm. Impressively, she started off as a volunteer. Simone recalls, “I met Vicki and Peter our daughters’ soccer. They played together and I started volunteering, and slowly I rolled into more hours and more hours and more hours and I loved it” (Haroush). Simone remembers seeing Vicki and Peter’s daughter bringing baby goats and other animals to the soccer field, and that’s how she learned about AAH. As the Program Manager, Simone oversees their three programs: Mobile Barnyard, Vocational Visits, and Private Visits. She mostly does Outbound Visits. She gets to the farm in the morning, loads up animals and prepares for the day’s visits. She also walks around all of the pens to see the animals and make sure they are all okay, even if there is someone already there. She then goes to one visit, gives the animals food and water, goes on another visit, heads back to the farm, and then normally returns once more. Simone says that there are two main struggles in what she does: “One is the weather, and there’s nothing we can do about that. I don’t care about the heat, the rain is just wrecking havoc on the farm, I don’t want to take animals out in the rain it’s just not fair. The other is emotional. Emotionally seeing kids, they might not struggle but we see it as a struggle for them, but seeing their joy in petting animals make it kind of okay, but that can be a struggle” (Haroush). This emotional challenge is something that all volunteers and workers at AAH deal with;, however, it makes the impact they are delivering even more remarkable and meaningful. Simone’s favorite aspect of AAH is “the community that it builds. It builds with the youth volunteers, with the animals, for kids with special needs… or needs and I think it’s amazing. It does a lot and it says a lot about the people here that keep volunteering” (Haroush). 13


Simone Haroush

“It does a lot and it says a lot about the people here that keep volunteering“ Simone Haroush





Goat Family at AAH Farm

Close to Home S

ome volunteers bring deep experiences and professional backgrounds to their work at AAH. For instance, my own mother, Kimberly Ahrens, who holds degrees as a Registered Nurse (RN), Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), and Certified Professional Coactive Coach (CPCC), helped facilitate animals brought into hospitals by the SPCA. Through facilitating these animals in hospitals, she saw how animals played a part in a patient’s healing process. As someone who has been in a wheelchair for sixteen years, she has realized a deeper connection to what AAH has brought to her life. After a seventeen-year-old drunk driver hit our car in Denver when I was three weeks old, my mom was paralyzed from the neck down. Fortunately, she regained function in her arms, but is still unable to walk. When she was in the hospital when she first got hurt, she missed her dogs very much because they were still at home in San Francisco. Kim’s night nurse brought in her Yorkshire Terrier and placed it on Kim’s head to try to help relieve her sadness from the separation from her and her dogs. To this day, she says, “I think that little Yorkie in the ICU helped me more than any animal has ever helped me because I didn’t even feel like I was in my own body

and I love my dogs so much and that Yorkie helped me reconnect with love.” (Ahrens). This is one personal example of how an animal has helped Kim in her life, which lead her understanding the power that animals have on people. Despite her disability, she has persevered and continued to be an amazing mother, wonderful friend, loving wife to my father, and one of the strongest and most inspiring women I know. Even after having to leave her career in nursing, she has gone on to become a Happiness Coach, teaching her clients how to take positive steps in solving life’s hard moments. Overall, AAH really aligned with her values and interests of animals and helping people. She learned about this organization through bring in National Charity League with me, which is an organization where mothers and daughters volunteer together to help serve their communities. Animal Assisted Happiness was one of the philanthropies that NCL served and worked with. Being the animal lover that she is, she jumped to the opportunity to get trained and become a volunteer. Ever since learning about it, she has come to Mountain View High School when AAH visits the special education students, and helps the kids with the animals. 19


“...helped me reconnect with love.“ -Kim Ahrens

Kim Ahrens



Backed By Science W

e all have heard that animals provide therapy. There are therapy and emotional support animals, and organizations such as Animal Assisted Happiness that support this. However, what exactly do animals do? What do they provide? In Pet Therapy, Anna Zernone Giorgi examines the benefits and healing properties that animals bring to humans: “Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.” Giorgi also explains that animal therapy may provide benefits such as the following: making you happier, lessening depression, improving your outlook on life, decreasing loneliness and isolation by giving you a companion, reducing boredom, reducing anxiety due to its calming effects, and helping children learn empathetic and nurturing skills. As a volunteer at AAH, I have noticed a wide variety of disabilities in the people who the organization serves. Simone says, “We don’t ask what the disabilities are, whether they’re invisible or visible. We see it all, whether it’s the autism spectrum, kids in wheelchairs, whatever disability they have, anything goes.” (Haroush) The fact that they don’t ask about the specific disability is something that’s so miraculous and beautiful about AAH. They don’t need to know the disability or ability of a child in order to help them; they just bring animals to the children and help spread happiness and smiles to all. When Fraser Met Billy by Louise Booth is a book about a boy named Fraser, who has Autism, and how the transformative power of animal connection from his cat, Billy, impacted his life. The author is actually the mother of Fraser, and in the dedication

of the book, she writes, “I know somewhere out there, is me five years ago, someone who is facing the same enormities, despair, and isolation that I faced when I gave birth to Fraser in March 2008. This book is written for that person. I want it to help them see that there is hope at the other end of what seems like a very long, dark tunnel. You can get there, I promise.” In this heartfelt introduction, Booth relates to other parents who struggle with having a child with a disability, and provides them this book as an example of hope in these types of situations. Animal Assisted Happiness does the same: by providing children with animals, they provide them unconditional love, without judgement, and without hesitation or fear.

Previous Page: Goat at AAH Farm


“Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.� -Anna Zernone Giorgi




Pig House at AAH Farm

Bunny at AAH Farm




AAH Farm Decorations

Pig Pen at AAH Farm

Horse at AAH Farm



Giving to Givers N

ot only does Animal Assisted Happiness benefit the children they serve, but the volunteers experience the advantages as well. “It’s definitely broadened my idea of the community around here and how many different locations there are for people with need. I realized how many facilities there were and it made me a lot more comfortable with talking with all different types of people and getting to learn more about them,.” says high school volunteer, Eliana Katz. Eliana became interested in volunteering for AAH because she loves animals and she wants to one day become an elementary school teacher. From her experiences at Animal Assisted Happiness, she has grown to like working with children with special needs. As a volunteer for this organization myself, I personally experience smiles every time I go and work with the animals or kids. From the adorable loving animals, to the sweet and kind children we get to serve, the whole process and every aspect is beautiful. Around the farm are pieces of art created by a variety of people. For example, one in the bunny section reads a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit, “When a child loves you for a long long time, not just to play with but really loves you, then you become real.” This shows the importance of love on the farm. The farm also has an array of facts about the different animals housed on the two acres. Did you know that pigs can run up to 11 miles per hour or that pigs and piglets can recognize their own names? Or did you know that the lifespan of a mini horse is 30-50 years and the tallest mini horse s only 34 inches tall? These facts are written on signs around the farm so when people walk around and see the animals, they can learn more about them. This shows that the non-profit is also dedicated to educating while bringing smiles to the farm as well. By providing happiness and joy to the volunteers and workers, as well as the people they serve, Animal Assisted Happiness follows through with their mission statement.

Alpaca at AAH Farm 31

Goat at AAH Farm

Signs at AAH Farm



Conclusion T

o conclude, AHH, is a non profit organization that is dedicated and is succeeding in bringing smiles to all. AAH sits on two acres at Baylands Park with animals ranging from pigs, horses, and alpacas, to bunnies, chickens, ducks, and goats. They bring their animals and different types of visits to schools and other facilities where children benefit from the presence of animals. Mainly providing services to children with special needs, this program is equipped with some of the most loving and dedicated workers and volunteers with a heart of gold. A lot can happen in the next five years for this organization but Simone hopes that there will be an increase in animals, as well as an increase in fundraising so they can get more workers, which will allow them to go on more visits and create an impact on a larger amount of people.




Works Cited Michaud, Ellen. “The New Rescue Dogs: in Hospitals and Research Centers across the Country, Man’s Best Friend Is Showing a Stun ning Ability to Heat Our Bodies and Soothe Our Souls.” Saturday Evening Post, Saturday Evening Post Society, 1 Mar. 2013, archForm¤tPosition=13&docId=GALE|A274027151&docType=Article&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=GPS&contentSe t=GALE|A274027151&searchId=R4&userGroupName=moun43602&inPS=true. Georgi, Anne Zernone. “Pet Therapy.” Healthline, 4 May 2016, Barish, Ellen Blum. “Pets: Unconditional Love: You Know That {Your Pet’s Name Here} Is Great Fun to Come Home to. But Did You Know That Your Pet Can Be Good for Your--and Your Family’s--Health? (Psychology).” Current Health 2, a Weekly Reader Publicat ion, Scholastic, 1 Apr. 2010, gleTab&searchType=BasicSearchForm¤tPosition=6&docId=GALE|A100048283&docType=Article&sort=Relevance&contentSegme nt=&prodId=GPS&contentSet=GALE|A100048283&searchId=R4&userGroupName=moun43602&inPS=true. Golin, Mark. “Heal Emotions with Fur, Feathers and Love.” Prevention, Hearst Magazines, a Division of the Hearst Corporation , 1 Apr. 2019, asicSearchForm¤tPosition=2&docId=GALE|A15987538&docType=Article&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=GPS&conte ntSet=GALE|A15987538&searchId=R4&userGroupName=moun43602&inPS=true.


About the Author

Olivia Ahrens is a student at Freestyle Academy and Mountain View High School. She chose Design as her elective because she has always had a passion for fashion design and interior design and wanted to advance her skills and see if the field would be a good fit as a career choice. Outside of school, you could catch her hanging out with friends, cheering at football games, and volunteering for El Camino Hospital and National Charity League. Some things to know about her are that she loves young children and has been a Red Cross Certified babysitter for about eight years. She has also been a member of the MVHS swim team for the past three years. Her freshman year, she was a captain of the JV cheer team, sophomore year, was on varsity, and in both years, was on the school’s competitive cheer team that went to nationals in Los Angeles and got 1st place both years in a row. She loved cheer and it was a huge part in her life, but after hard consideration, she decided to stop junior year to focus more on school, volunteering, and preparing for college. She can’t wait to see what the future holds and she looks forward to apply what she has learned at Freestyle to the rest of her life! 38



Healing Farm


Olivia Ahrens

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Book by Olivia Aherns  

Book by Olivia Aherns