CANAAN TWP. — Melissa Willard said it might take a miracle for her to win a $25,000 grant for her animal rescue farm.
But then, she has seen countless miracles since she founded Life’s Little Adventures Farm Inc., 9199 Burbank Road, Wayne County, in June 2002. The nonprofit organization rescues animals, and in turn, the animals rescue children and families in crisis.
“The best way to describe it is we’re in the rescue business,” Willard said. “When we rescue a horse, it doesn’t stop there. They’re a tool to help us rescue kids.”
Sometimes Willard wakes up in the morning to find a horse dropped off in the pasture. Since Thanksgiving, 14 have been left at the farm.
They are not the only rescued animals. There’s everything from goats to geese to potbellied pigs.
Willard also will loan out the horses.
“I lease them out for free,” she said, “knowing the animals are well taken care of, and if something happens, like a death in the family, they can take them back here.”
She said she trains potential leasers for about 20 hours so they “understand what it takes to care for the animal.”
In one case, the farm leased a pony to a family whose mother was dying of cancer. She died six months later, but the family kept the horse in her memory.
“Even after she passed, they kept the pony because it was a link to her,” Willard said.
As with the animals rescued, the people who come to Life’s Little Adventures are varied. Some have developmental disabilities and benefit from realizing they are capable of caring for animals. Others are sexual assault victims learning to trust again. One man was 19 years old and in a wheelchair — the result of an accident in which he was driving drunk and three people were killed.
A client with anorexia was paired with a severely malnourished horse. She went home and researched the ravaging effects malnutrition had on the horse, and drew parallels to her own eating disorder and what was happening to her body as a result, Willard said.
Whatever their trials, she said about two-thirds of the volunteers at the farm were once clients who wanted to give back.
In 2008, the farm saw 510 families in need and rescued 25 large animals, placing 17 horses in 13 homes. All the services are free, Willard said.
In the farm’s seventh year, Willard is going after the largest grant the farm has seen. In fact, Willard has only received one grant for $6,000 since 2002, rendering the organization dependent on donations of time and money from the community.
Lately, donations have been hard to come by due to the economy, and more and more horses are being left at the farm for the same reason, she said.
Life’s Little Adventures is a finalist in the running for the Markham Mark of Distinction, a program from Markham Vineyards that gives two $25,000 grants to organizations that “make a lasting difference in the community.”
Life’s Little Adventures beat out several hundred entrants to make it to the list of top 10 finalists. Winners of the grants are determined by public vote on the Vineyard’s Web site: www.MarkhamMarkofDistinction.com. Voting continues until Aug. 29, and one vote can be cast per person per day.
To be eligible for the grant, Willard had to put together a proposal on how she would spend the money. Her idea is to build a sensory integration room onto Life’s Little Adventures barn. The room would use activities and games to help the brain of a disabled person communicate with the senses more effectively. The room also would include an Equicizer, a mechanical horse for children and adults to ride therapeutically if they are unable to handle a real horse.
The grant also would allow her to rent some space to plant hay.
“We go through a ton of hay in four days, a ton of grain in 10 days, and a ton of straw in 12,” Willard said.
Voting also can be accessed through the farm’s Web site: www.lifeslittleadventures.com.
Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or firstname.lastname@example.org.