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Ames nonprofit raising funds to build care farm for families with special needs

Kylee Mullen
Ames Tribune
Brad and Gina Perkins built a temporary structure to house animals during fundraising events, but are hoping to raise more than $35,000 to build a permanent care farm facility.

A new Story County nonprofit is hoping to raise more than $35,000 to build an inclusive care farm for families with different needs. 

Cultivating Hope Farms, Iowa's first care farm, was established in April just south of Ames on the same property as Raspberry Hill Bed and Breakfast. According to board members Brad and Gina Perkins, the organization will offer a family-centered environment using farm care practices to teach life and job skills to participants from throughout the community and state.

And it all started with their daughter, five-year-old Kaitlyn, who was diagnosed with autism in August 2018.

Nonprofit hopes to 'help lots of kids' through care farm

The Perkins, who own Raspberry Hill, said they tried several clinical therapy options for Kaitlyn after she was diagnosed, but "she wasn't able to learn." Eventually, however, they realized she was a lot more relaxed when around the farm animals at their home. 

"Some of her first words were out there with the animals," Gina Perkins said. Even the first time Kaitlyn said "mommy" at 4 years old was while on the farm. The couple decided to pursue more animal-based care therapy, and "it worked." 

"She went from saying zero words at age 4 to now being up to more than 100 words," Gina Perkins said. "She is having communication through four-to five-word sentences, and she can give you eye contact for a longer period of time. She is learning those social skills because they are going out on the farm with her, communicating and having those relationships with the animals, and then transferring them to people. It's been phenomenal."

"That kind of morphed into this idea," Brad Perkins said about building a care farm on part of Raspberry Hill's 73 acres. "We were always going to build something here, perhaps a stable or something along those lines, but we decided that if this works for Kaitlyn, if this works for one kid, then maybe it could work for more than one. If it works for more than one, maybe we could turn this into a not-for-profit and help lots of kids."

So they got to work — they formed a board, put paperwork through the IRS to become a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, and now they are looking to raise funds to turn their dream of helping kids, families and communities into a reality. 

Learning skills by working with animals and agriculture 

The area which will eventually become Cultivating Hope Farms consists of an arena and small temporary barn, with a large trench stretching across the property for a water line. But the Perkins hope, with the community's help, a new barn will be constructed soon and the farm will continue to grow beyond even that.

Kids will interact with and take care of goats, horses, pigs and chickens on the farm. They will also have opportunities to learn ranch riding. The farm is partnering with Shiloh Western Training to create a unique Cultivating Hope Farms program.  

The Perkins hope to offer various amenities for the ranch program as it grows, including an outdoor arena with warm-up area for ranch horse shows and other events, future covered outdoor horse pens, riding trails, western ranch horse lessons and more.

There will be programming suitable for everyone, Gina Perkins said. It will not, however, be the same as services offered by Ames' One Heart Equestrian Therapy, which is more therapeutic. Rather, "this is more kids learning roping and doing confidence building in all things that deal with a ranch." 

"This would be a working farm, not a petting zoo of any type," Brad Perkins said. "We want the kids to learn the life lessons our kids learned growing up by taking care of animals — the basic skills of working hard, doing a task, and then when done with that task, coming back for another one.

"Those are life skills that everybody needs no matter what profession they're going into, and if we can do that in a setting that puts kids at ease and helps them learn, then all the better."

Families would volunteer to go out and work on the farm together, giving the kids something to look forward to and do work that gives them an opportunity to learn. Perkins said it would be an experience "in between therapy and being out in the world on your own."

"Think of us as that training ground," Perkins said. "They'd be doing everything from cleaning stalls and taking care of animals to gathering eggs from the chickens. Things that a lot of kids don't usually have the opportunity to do, but it builds self-worth and self-confidence as well as social skills."

Perkins said his goal in teaching these life skills is to give his daughter, and other kids with different needs, a better chance at future employment.

In 2019, 19.3% of persons with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for persons without a disability was 66.3%.

"Those aren't the outcomes we want for our daughter," Brad Perkins said. "What we're hoping to do is come up with a program that teaches life skills so that those kids don't look at (that) unemployment rate when they turn into adults."

Building the barn, a community effort

The first step in realizing those goals is to build a barn to house the eight horses, six goats and various chickens, cats and pigs who will be a part of Cultivating Hope Farms' programs. 

However, Brad Perkins said, the process of raising the necessary funds has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and last month's derecho storm. 

"This has been a challenging year for everything," he said. "At this point, I don't know what the next crisis is going to be ... it's made fundraising difficult, it's made building difficult and it's made networking difficult."

The cost of building a barn accessible to all individuals with an ADA compliant bathroom — as well as shelter and fencing for the animals, building supplies and equipment, utility implementation, and a paved driveway and parking lot — was budgeted at $35,000 earlier this year. 

But, "the price of lumber just doubled or tripled in the last couple of weeks," due to the derecho storm, Brad Perkins said, so the cost is "probably considerably higher now." 

Over the past month, the organization had held "Social for a Cause" events to try and raise some of the needed funds. Those events were canceled for the remainder of September to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Story County.

Already, they said, they've been amazed by the amount of community support they've seen. Earlier this week, Fareway Stores donated some lumber. And last month, Bobcat of Ames donated their trencher to be used by the organization for the water line. 

They hope other members of the community can help them secure needed resources, volunteer time and talent, and make monetary donations. 

"There's a lot of community interest and a lot of community support," Brad Perkins said. "We're very thankful for the people who have given already ... the stuff we've had is great, but we are also looking for more."

They will hold an event with Shiloh Western Training to offer horseback rides and other ranch activities for kids from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 20, social distancing rules apply, with free-will donations benefiting the farm. 

Those interested in volunteering or making a donation can also reach out online at www.cultivatinghopefarms.org.