Grant helps connect children with rescued animals

Published Jul 15, 2018 at 9:00am

Many of the animals living at the Haven at Skanda in Cazenovia are endangered and abused. Now, with the help of a $20,000 grant awarded by the Central New York Community Foundation, those same animals have been rescued, and are helping children who struggle with emotional and behavioral issues to receive some much-needed support. 

While working as a social worker for seven years, Ellen Beckerman witnessed the challenges children from low-income families faced first-hand, especially during the summer months. That is when they are without the supportive structure of school and a lack of access to community programs, leaving many to struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts and drug use, she said.

So Beckerman helped institute an alternative way for them to receive support: through interaction with animals. 

Beckerman, executive director of the Haven at Skanda, helped launch the Summer at Skanda program last summer for children ages 7-12.

The Haven immerses children in direct interaction with the animals that reside on the farm. Daily activities include animal feeding, grooming, bonding time, arts and crafts, recreational games, nature walks, gardening and team-building games. 

“Children who struggle with emotional and behavioral issues or come from low-income families are especially vulnerable during the summer,” said Beckerman.

“With a supportive, inclusive, and empowering program that caters to their specific needs, these kids can make gains during the summer that have long-lasting, positive effects on their functioning in school and at home,” Beckerman added. 

The organization works in collaboration with the ASPCA and other rescue shelters to provide comfortable homes for endangered and abused animals.

Children have the opportunity to interact with all the animals living at the Haven including horses, goats, mini donkeys, chickens, ducks, bunnies, pigs, roosters and more.

As the children learn to care for the animals, they develop mindfulness, peaceful conflict resolution, teamwork and leadership skills. 

“When kids connect with animals like goats, miniature donkeys, and ducks, they can see the brilliance of all animals, not just cats and dogs,” said Beckerman. “The diversity provides each child with ample opportunity to find that special animal to connect with.” 

Last year, the Haven at Skanda partnered with the Madison Elementary School to invite its at-risk youth to participate in the program. The school’s principal, Brian Latella, has already seen a positive change in his students. 

“Summer at Skanda teaches our students a very important character trait that is often overlooked - empathy,” said Latella. “The experience working with and taking care of animals helps them learn how to handle peers when they find themselves in a challenging emotional situation.” 

The Community Foundation’s $20,000 grant will help to expand Summer at Skanda to reach more children within and beyond Madison County. 

“We’re thrilled to support this program to help combat depression that many of our youth experience and the risky behavior that can result from this and other mental health and behavioral issues,” said Danielle Gill, director, community grantmaking at the Community Foundation. “Children that have gone through the program have demonstrated increased empathy, leadership and conflict resolution skills.” 

This year, the program will serve 18 families. Beckerman hopes that this growth will allow them to double the amount next summer. 

The Community Foundation also awarded the following grants to local nonprofit organizations: 

  • Clear Path for Veterans received $35,075 to track and measure outcomes of client participation. This will allow staff to identify service gaps and make necessary programming adjustments. 
  • Heritage Farm received $2,055 to purchase equipment that will enable overnight respite services for clients with epilepsy. 
  • Izaak Walton League received $2,476 to expand the Young Naturalists of CNY environmental education program to libraries in the City of Syracuse. 
  • Madison County Department of Emergency Management received $10,000 to purchase and distribute smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to residents. 
  • Matthew 25 Farm received $15,000 to construct a second in-ground greenhouse to increase distribution of its produce for local food pantries. 
  • Liberty Resources received $50,000 to expand the services and hours of operation at its Integrated Care Clinic, as well as begin a pediatric program. This expansion will provide families with increased access to healthcare services in one central location. 
  • The Reading League received $20,523 to initiate training for reading coaches in Central New York schools. This will provide teachers with the necessary skills to further support children that have difficulty reading or writing.