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The Farm Project Aims to Help Children

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, December 7, 2018

The Farm Project is a non-profit, faith-based children's program in LaGrange that aims to provide a safe and restorative place for children in need. There will be animals on the farm to help children heal, as well as other therapeutic methods.

"Animal therapy has been proven to be very effective in breaking down some of those barriers that children put up," said Steve Kooistra, president of The Farm Project.

In 2017, there were 29,630 children in Indiana removed from their home because of dangerous situations. These children were abused, neglected, impaired or endangered in some way and the parents were either unwilling or unable to fix the issue. The Farm Project hopes to take in children like this in the surrounding four counties; LaGrange, Noble, DeKalb and Steuben.

The Farm is currently under construction, with the emergency foster care home nearly completed. The goal is to also build a lodge with a kitchen, restroom and meeting area, as well as a barn with animals. According to the board members, they would also like to eventually make trails through the woods and a garden area.

The facility will also be available for therapists or any court ordered meetings to take place. The board hopes this will provide a more relaxed environment for these meetings.

"This is a multi-denominational, faith-based mission," said Marge Malone, a member on The Farm board. "It's a group of people from all different churches. It's not one religion, it's a group of people that basically got together to take on a common mission."

The Farm had less than two years to come up with $165,000 to purchase the land for the project. Local churches and the community came together and they were able to close on a piece of land by the end of 2016. Their current budget is $1.2 million. The Farm raises money through donations, shirt sales and brick sales.

They have also done other fundraisers, including one through Lakeland Schools. Each student and adult was sent home with a small piggy bank and asked to fill the pig to contribute to the project.

"Linda and I stood at the bank for hours emptying piggy banks," said Sue Keenan, secretary of The Farm Project. "All in all, we raised about $6,000."

The Farm Project isn't just taking monetary donations. There are many people that have offered to donate animals that will live on the farm. The barn is not built, but when it is finished there are several animals that already have a future home there. Miniature donkeys and miniature horses are among some of those animals.

Once the house is finished, The Farm Project will start looking for a couple to live in the house. They will need to be available at all times in case a child needs to be taken to the house. The couple would take care of any children that need to stay at The Farm and the animals that live there. Therapists will mainly be in charge of the children, but there needs to be someone who stays at the farm.

The kitchen that will be in the lodge will hopefully serve as an educational too as well. Malone said they would like to eventually use it to teach parents cooking skills that they may not have learned. She added that it is an ongoing project and hope they will continue to grow over time.

If The Farm Project proves to be successful in helping children cope and heal after traumatic situations, there are other places, including southern Indiana, that are looking at using this type of program. The board said they are excited about the possibilities the project holds.

"There's a potential for us to accommodate 6,000 kids or young people in a year if every one of our locations in the lodge is used every day," said Keenan. "Do I think that there are 6,000 kids that need help in the four counties? Yes."

Kooistra said The Farm will provide a place to go that is within the community the children are comfortable in. They won't have to travel far to get the help they need. Even though it is nearby, it is back in the trees, secluded from outside eyes. Before, families might have had to have meetings at the local McDonalds. This project strives provide more privacy in a safe environment.

Three board members are foster care providers. They help provide knowledge of what needs to happen to make the project run as smoothly as possible.

In addition to donations, The Farm Project also appreciates people to volunteer their time. Workers from REMC, Habitat for Humanity and other people in the community volunteered to help with construction of the house. There are many ways people can provide assistance including fundraising, animal care and more.

"As I had said from day one, this is a God thing," Malone said. "The doors opened and the right people walked in."

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