Monday, December 5, 2011

JACOB'S FUND :: Occupy McKenna Farms (part 2)

Bernie and Glenna, Jacob Beachy's grandparents

(front, left to right) Yiwen, Jaden, Wilma, Glenna, Elyse, Margie, Hana
(back row) Sonya, Doug, Bernie, Ted

Now we know what that old southern phrase, wouldn’t trade you for a farm in Georgia, is all about. What a gorgeous area—a place where one savors every moment.

From the crack of dawn, our senses became alive on our second day at the farm:

  • Seeing the sunshine igniting brilliant fall colors in the trees.
  • Hearing the occasional whinny of a horse.
  • Smelling the rich aroma of fresh-brewed coffee.
  • Tasting a variety of decadent fresh doughnuts.
  • Feeling the bitter chill in the air that November morning.
The five senses were the focus of our energies that entire day as the team mobilized to work on the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail, a critical therapy area of the farm. Spanning a 5 acre area, the wide trail winds around a circle of 9 stations, each designed to increase sensory awareness. The trail then meanders through the woods to a cool, clear stream and back to the sensory stations.

Before our work began, we visited the barn to greet the horses, helping to feed and brush them. Like children, each horse is unique, not only in color and size, but in personality as well: Hershey (a Appaloosa) may nip you; Tank (a percheron) is a gentle giant; and Major (a Arabian) has the even temperment of the ideal hippotherapy horse. Each horse is specially trained to accommodate the young, often unstable riders. We found it difficult to tear ourselves away from these huge animals with whom the children of McKenna Farms form a bond of trust and confidence however socializing with the horses was not our weekend task (although it certainly was a perk!).

Brushing STAR

Learning the details of feeding horses

As soon as the horses were fed and ready to be released into the pasture, we walked down the lane to the sensory trail and surveyed the work that needed to be done. Tall grass lined the trail and
late-summer weeds had grown up around the stations. The unstained wood appeared dull and lackluster. A wooden bridge had been overturned and was in dire need of repair. Planters were full of dead annuals. Plastic buckets and containers used for therapy were worn and cracked due to exposure to the elements. And so our work began!

Our workplace for the weekend

Doug and Jaden tackled the open areas with a mower and weed whacker while the rest of the team pulled weeds in the more inaccessible nooks and crannies. When the dust settled, the messy fun began. Armed with rollers, brushes, and 5 gallon drums of stain, we tackled the uprights, roofs and any other exposed wood of the sensory stations as well as the planters, birdhouses and bird feeders scattered along the trail. And so the transformation of the area continued as we traveled—station to station—cleaning, staining, and repairing.

Every boy's dream - operating a lawn mower!

Each sensory station is carefully designed to focus on and develop one or more of the senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. The materials look like giant's toys—oversized objects that allow children whose fine motor skills are underdeveloped and who cannot manipulate small typical shape and color toys—to work with both while on foot or on the back of a horse.

These colorful bars with over-sized shaped cutouts develop the child’s sense of sight and touch and aid them in the development of visual discrimination. Since many of us had never experienced this type of therapy, a lesson was in order!

Jessie shared that a child typically rides up to the station on their horse. Then, based on the child's individual needs and ability, the therapist guides them in an activity. For a child who may be lacking core strength or doesn't know where their body is in space, the therapist may request that he or she, while holding the reins in one hand, reach across their body with their free hand to receive a stuffed toy from the therapist. The child would then take the toy and locate the particular colored bar and shape specified by the therapist and put the toy through the hole. A seemingly simple activity such as this engages different parts of the mind and muscles in the body simultaneously, involves motor planning and cognitive abilities, which creates many opportunities for development and refinement of skills.

As the child progresses, the level of complexity of the activities increase. The therapist may offer an entire bucket full of toys, directing the child to find a particular one in the mix, adding another level of difficulty to the exercise. The child must now bend over and reach into the bucket to locate the correct toy all while controlling both their body and the horse. Then, depending on which colored bar is required, reach up, over, out, or down to place the toy in the correct opening. The therapist names colors, shapes, and other pertinent words and has the child repeat them during the exercise, increasing their vocabulary during the session.

We were amazed to see and hear how a very complex therapy session could be tailored for each child through these outwardly basic activities. Jessie shared similar therapy strategies were shared as we worked our way along the trail, learning about the stations and their purpose as we went.

We were puzzled to find a few team members chewing leaves from a planter. As we approached, it became clear – they had discovered the herb garden. The air was scented with rosemary and mint at a station where a therapist guides a child in exercises to help them develop their sense of smell.

Staining the chimes structure

The entire team couldn’t resist the chimes! Using large drumsticks, we ran the sticks across the chimes repeatedly, listening to the different tones made by each size chime. As each person passed at varying heights, different tunes were created. Suddenly, we were aware of how much we delight in these sounds and how critical our sense of hearing is in life.

Flipping the wooden bridge

Following a lunch break and with renewed energy, Doug, Ted and Jessie's husband Will began the plans to reposition and repair a large wooden bridge that had been part of the entrance to the trail. The bridge, which had previously been moved and flipped on its back to allow access to the rear of the barn, needed to be turned right-side-up and placed in its original position at the entrance of the sensory trail. The men repaired and replaced loose wooden planks before they tackled the much larger job of turning it over. With clever planning, teamwork and just the right touch with the front end-loader, the job was successfully completed in a few hours.

Glad that the staining is almost finished!

Then we all went back to staining the wood, which took us through the end of a very long, but extremely productive day at the farm. The team was exhausted but satisfied with our accomplishments. Only a few details remained for the next morning before we each went our separate ways, tired and sore, but with huge smiles on our faces.

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