Imagine that you have a child with a developmental disability. What would you do to build a support system for them? What would you do to ensure that they would be okay if something happened to you? Ruthie and David Robbins built their daughter, Mandy, a farm.
Mandy’s Farm is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping many young adults with developmental disabilities.
“Mandy was very challenging, has a lot of sensory issues and is nonverbal,” said Melissa McCue, Mandy’s Farm’s executive director. “Things that were very therapeutic to her were swimming, gardening, keeping busy with arts activities and horses. Around those four things, Mandy’s Farm was created.”
After a lot of fundraising and community awareness projects, Mandy’s Farm houses 11 individuals and serves over 125 people with disabilities, according to McCue.
McCue said that one of her favorite things about working on Mandy’s Farm is building friendships with those the farm serves.
“You see them making small milestones, whether it’s getting their first paycheck or they rode a horse for the first time, and there is just a real sense of joy and pride that I think as a community and in our society, we forget sometimes,” McCue said. “We get caught up in the day-to-day details of just making it through the day, so it’s nice to just reflect on the small things that make you happy.”
And, McCue added, working with the baby goats.
The farm generally has baby goats twice a year, and they serve a big purpose for the people working on the farm.
“Part of the thought process of the farm is that individuals with disabilities need to learn independent living skills,” McCue said. “By caring for animals, they can then transfer that skill to caring for themselves — the importance of good food, the importance of health checks and there’s just a therapeutic element about being around the animals. It’s a real natural, non-artificial way to teach them those skills.”
The goats are used for a lot of things, too, one of which is rather new: the goat yoga class.
“Shannon (the barn manager) just did the first goat yoga class for our day program,” McCue said. “We had some individuals in the classroom, and they were doing their yoga exercises, and we let the baby goats loose.”
In addition to goats, Mandy’s Farm also has chickens, dogs, cats, alpacas and horses. Most of their animals are rescued from people who can’t care for them anymore. Some of the cats that used to hang around the UNM arts program were relocated to Mandy’s Farm.
McCue said the alpaca fur is used to create art projects. Some of the items that are created are sold at artisan fairs or on the farm’s Etsy account.
Mandy’s Farm recently relaunched their horsemanship program, according to Shannon Burt, the barn manager.
“We’re starting on the basics of grooming and horse care, feeding and how to feed the horses properly, how to groom them properly, how to work with the horses and then we also have a riding club,” Burt said. “We have our adaptive horsemanship riding club where our individuals get to learn how to ride, how to mount a horse, how to dismount and everything that comes with riding a horse.”
This particular program is not just for people with developmental disabilities. It’s open to children in the community, too.
“Right now, we are really, really looking for volunteers for our horsemanship program,” McCue said. “That’s to help people ride, get them on the horse and help with feedings.”
In fact, McCue said that Mandy’s Farm is a great place for UNM students to gain volunteer experience.
“I think we’re a great employer for college students to get experience, especially if they’re interested in this population, nursing or some therapies like speech therapy or occupational therapy,” said McCue, Mandy’s Farm’s executive director. “We have some flexible hours, so UNM’s a great place for us to recruit our support staff.”
Mandy’s Farm also has two big volunteer events each year, which some sororities and fraternities volunteer for.
Those aren’t the only ties Mandy’s Farm has to UNM, though. The farm is also working with the Occupational Therapy program for a grant right now.
Gaining funds for Mandy’s Farm is a struggle sometimes, according to McCue.
“There’s a very competitive environment right now, because there aren’t a lot of funds out there, and there are a whole lot of people in need,” McCue said. “...a challenging thing is to educate people about what we do and then be able to get the financial means to support it.”
Educating people who don’t understand people with developmental disabilities is sometimes a challenge, too, McCue said.
“I think sometimes people are unaware of the abilities and the needs of people with developmental disabilities and so sometimes we’ll approach a situation where people are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the people that we work with,” McCue said. “It’s just a little bit of explaining why that person is waving their hands or trying to calm themselves down or is upset about something in the community. But once you talk to them or let them know what’s happening in that moment, I think people are very understanding and kind and welcoming.”
One of the big goals the people at Mandy’s Farm work towards, according to McCue, is getting people with developmental disabilities prepared for working in the community.
“By feeding the animals and participating in events like the state fair where they’re doing the horses, they’re learning skills that can be transferable to community jobs,” McCue said. “We have a lot of individuals that have worked in the garden and then are working in food occupations.”
There will be a fundraising event, the Mandy’s Farm Kentucky Derby Party, on May 6 from 2 to 5 p.m. All proceeds will go to their horsemanship program. There will be horses wearing derby hats, goat races and food.
If you are interested in volunteering at Mandy’s Farm, check their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.
If you are interested in getting a tour of Mandy’s Farm, contact Melissa McCue at .
“We can talk about what we do here, but until you come down to the farm and see what it is, I think that really is what gives a clear understanding and image to the people that we support,” McCue said.
Ariel Lutnesky is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.