HOLMDEL, N.J. — Peace, Love & Horses (PLH), Farm Academy Program, at Lucky Star Farm in Middletown, N.J. provides special individuals with an opportunity to experience the healing power of horses and farm life'.
Recently, the Holmdel Board of Education (BOE) accepted funding from Hope For Children Foundation (HFCF) to support participation of students from Holmdel's W.R. Satz School (seventh and eighth grades), in the program.
Dustin Tobacco is the Barn Manager, and the Farm's Constitution written by him is how things work at the Farm everyday:
The Constitution of Peace Love & Horses
I declare that everyone at Peace Love & Horses is safe, happy and accepted
for who they are and feel love
Everyone has the opportunity to do the right thing and feel calm
We take care of animals and each other. — By Dustin Tobacco
Whether it is vocational training programs for young adults with autism, retreats for combat veterans, after school clubs, volunteer programs, or one on one sessions, PLH curriculum was developed with behavioral therapists, psychologists, equine professionals, and the unyielding passion and deep love of a mom caring for her son with autism. That mom is founder of Peace Love & Horses at Lucky Star Farm, and her name is Jacqueline Tobacco. The Tobacco family has experienced the healing power of horses first hand with their son Dustin, age 13, and it is a gift they want to give to as many children as possible. Currently they are serving children with autism, anxiety, grief from the loss of a loved one (a parent), ADHD and at risk youth.
PLH began piloting a program with Middletown High Schools and recently due to HFCF's gifting, Holmdel W.R. Satz School students with special needs now also have the opportunity to participate in a six week program with PLH. This program designed to provide a structured learning experience with vocational training, Barn Care and horsemanship. Hope for Children Co-founder MaryBeth Walz Pritzlaff comments, "From the first time I visited Lucky Star I just knew it was a special place of healing and nurturing. I heard testimonials from parents of children with special needs who had witnessed amazing life changing experiences in the Peace, Love & Horses program, I knew this was an initiative totally in line with the mission of HFCF. You can truly feel the peace and love here as soon as you pull up to the farm. It's a place where everyone has mutual respect for one another and the language spoken is love."
The origin of the Lucky Star's Peace, Love & Horses mission began when Jacqueline's son Dustin, who has autism, showed true comfort, happiness, and confidence, specifically when caring for farm animals. Jacqueline said, "Dustin kept saying, 'We need our own farm,' and we literally just followed his needs for a special place where everyone feels loved, accepted and competent." The family knew that they had to make a huge change for their son, and the sons and daughters of so many. So the Tobacco's sold their home and bought the farm. Lucky Star Farm became their new home and then they founded the non-profit Peace, Love and Horses program soon after that. Their son Dustin became the operating Barn Manager. "Lucky Star Farm is our family's home and our dream for our son — a place for him to feel accepted and competent. We are overwhelmed by the encouragement and support for our Peace Love & Horses program from other families and schools in our community and throughout the county. We are very thankful to organizations like Hope for Children Foundation who make a decision to help children whom they may never know, to experience a life changing opportunity," said Tobacco. All of the animals at Lucky Star Farm are rescues or donations. Every animal eats organic or non GMO feed. The horse manure is used for fertilizer. There are vegetable gardens on the property and the farm is kept as chemical free as possible using natural fly sprays, no chemical fertilizers or weed killers.
Currently Lucky Star is serving over 60 individuals a week in the community, in small groups of six or seven at a session. Holmdel mom Kristin Maurer whose son Reece is a seventh grader at Holmdel's W.R. Satz school and is in the PLH 6 week program said, "I am thrilled that Reece has something he is so excited about doing. He loves going to Lucky Star Farm and telling people about 'his horse.' I can't thank HFCF and Holmdel Schools enough for this program. I swear I saw a positive difference in Reece after just one session at the Farm. Now he carries around pictures of the horses and before he was afraid of animals and now he loves them. Each child gets their own horse to care for and learn about. I'm so happy to see Reece loving something so much as he does Peace, Love & Horses."
The President and Co-founder of Hope for Children Foundation, Eric Hinds, comments, "Our non-profit, all volunteer organization Hope for Children Foundation is about helping the children of Monmouth County to better reach their full potential in life. It is programs like Peace Love & Horses that make our community thrive for everyone. When our HFCF board sees something positive that will help the community, especially our youth, we make the decision and it happens quickly. I want to thank our HFCF board for identifying Lucky Star and moving the idea to a reality for so many children and their families. HFCF has also pledged funding for PLH to complete an indoor area for their students during the fall and winter seasons, so they have a heated learning room. Making great things happen is so easy with HFCF supporters and an effective HFCF board. Thank you to our HFCF supporters, you can see your donations at work with Lucky Star Farm."
TAPinto visited Lucky Star Farm recently when Hope for Children Foundation met at the Farm with members of the Holmdel Township School District, and parents of participating students from Holmdel and Middletown schools. There is a special woman in the Holmdel School District who has a deep passion and constant commitment to the needs of all children in Holmdel Schools. Her care goes beyond their school years and into care and concern for their job placement after graduation. Her name is Doreen Riegal and she is the Transition Coordinator for Holmdel Schools. Riegal assists children with special needs transition from school to the workplace, and has implemented opportunities for them in partnership with businesses, most recently with companies in Holmdel's Bell Works. Riegal is always looking for opportunities for children with special needs. If you have a business interested in offering internship/employment opportunities, you may contact Riegal directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Doreen Riegal said; "The Peace, Love and Horse Farm offers a special learning experience, allowing children with special needs an opportunity to learn by interacting and caring for animals. The farm offers a special recipe for learning involving hands-on and multi-sensory activities along with heavy doses of love and passion. Everyone who experiences the farm leaves feeling at peace and empowered. It is truly a special place run by special people."
VIDEO: Watch and listen to Doreen Riegal and what she has to say about the Farm:
TAPinto also had a chance to speak with a couple of the parents who live in Middletown and provide great testimony to the PLH program. One mom, Virna Broderick whose son is on the autism spectrum, and is an 8th grader at Thompson Middle School said, "Lucky Star Farm has been life changing to our whole family. I now manage all the volunteers here and my son volunteers and the experience here is so calm and so peaceful and my son loves and looks forward to coming to the farm every week. He knows how to care for the horses and has learned to care for the farm and the animals. He has learned all the chores and loves checking them off. He's been coming since the fall and he gets so much out of it. We all do."
Lucky Star Farm knows caring for animals is not an easy task for anyone at first and there is a transition phase. According to Jacqueline Tobacco, when they originally launched the program they invited six severely autistic, non verbal young adults from New Horizons in Autism, who had never interacted with animals in a Farm setting and were not comfortable socially and had a list of challenges. Lucky Star Farm's goal was to prove that the curriculum, if able to work with this group, would be possible to work well with any special needs group.
Each special young adult was assigned a horse to learn to care for over the three month period. The group attended for an hour and a half once a week. The first days were challenging and tough especially for one of the girls who kept expressing herself with fear, but as every new session unfolded, all of the youth became engaged and comfortable and didn't want to leave at the end of the sessions. Many new accomplishments were made and the confidence grew with each child. By the end of the three-month period all of the youth were happy, content and tested over 90% or above with the curriculum and no behavior issues that were unmanageable.
Even the young girl who was initially terrified, bonded with the animals and would smile as she confidently took care of them and performed the farm chores. The program was a homerun success and now that program is the basis that is adjusted for any group. Lucky Star keeps the groups to six or seven and all abilities are welcome. So it's also a great unifying effort with special needs and non special needs children. Everything is color coded for teaching care of the animals and chores so if someone has challenges with reading they learn each horse has a color and then everything coordinates from there with the brushes, ropes, feeding bowls....
Susan Lonnie has 17-year-old twin boys Sean and Michael, who are severely autistic and attend PLH, through Middletown,. "Our boys were never around farm animals and I thought they would be afraid. My husband and I are amazed at how our boys have embraced the animals and they love to work here, following the directions, pushing the wheelbarrows, the desire to want to do the chores, want to participate in caring for the animals. The educators were non-familiar to our boys at first and yet they were able engage and re-direct our boys to stay on track and that is very impressive to me because they aren't used to taking directions from unfamiliar educators. They learned to collect eggs, 'feed the littles,' which is feeding the smaller animals. It's great socially for our boys and also for the parents to meet one another. One day our boys came home from the farm with two big bags of tomatoes they had picked while at Lucky Star. I told them I wanted to make sauce and they got so excited to help. We made the sauce together as a family project, and it was really special they were happy making the sauce from the tomatoes they picked on the farm and that learning experience of picking the tomatoes turned into an enjoyable family event."
Also visiting the farm with Holmdel and Middletown parents was President and Founder of Oasis Farms in Middletown Mai Cleary. Oasis founded in 2007, is a non-profit organization with a mission to promote acceptance and inclusion of autistic adults. The center has a post high school transitional program for autistic adults 18-26 who are looking grow more independent and gain meaningful work experience on an organic farmstead community, located at the facility. Oasis has day and residential programs available to teach independent living skills.
For more info on Oasis Farms visit see http://oasistlc.org. Lucky for Oasis is also a recipient of funding from Hope for Children Foundation, to bring a group of their young adult members who are autistic, to experience the Peace Love & Horses Farm Academy Program. Cleary said, "We are so thankful to Hope for Children Foundation for enabling us to have our group experience Peace, Love & Horses, The Lucky Star Farm and Oasis Farms share the same mission and it's wonderful that Mary Beth from HFCF has brought our groups together to support one another's programs."
The Co-founder of HFCF Mary Beth Walz Priztzlaff commented, "It's truly a joy to bring wonderful groups of non-profits together, all sharing the common goal of helping one another. Isn't that why we are here? Loving, caring and nurturing one another, is what it is all about."
For more information on The Lucky Star Farm or to make a donation to Peace Love & Horses, visit http://luckystarfarm.org
This story originally appeared in TAPinto Holmdel & Colt’s Neck
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