The past two weeks, I’ve had the honor of helping out at “Farm Day” for the Foundation for Blind Children, here in Phoenix.
Farm Day is an annual event where all of the students from the Foundation’s local campuses come to visit a farm in Glendale. Despite their vision impairments, the farm thrills the children’s other senses in a myriad of other ways that they likely don’t come across in their day-to-day life.
When I first saw the event listing on the Intel Involved website and read the description, I knew I absolutely positively had to volunteer! I have so many fantastic memories of my Grandpa & Grandma Russell’s farm throughout my life. I remember visiting the big farmhouse, riding in the tractors with Grandpa, petting the big, scary cows in the barn, picking berries in Grandma’s garden…the list goes on & on! I am very grateful to have grown up with a family farm, and I was excited to share some of the cool experiences I had growing up with some other children!
The Farm was in unique area of Glendale that I had never been to before. Glendale is, in my opinion, a little ghetto-y, but the area where the Farm was, was like a haven in the middle of the ‘hood!
It is owned by high school sweethearts who are now cute little old grandparents– Elaine & Carl– who both grew up just down the block, back when all of Glendale was a green, farm haven. Elaine’s brother, who was in town visiting for the event, told me how Carl started dating Elaine in high school because she had goats and he “thought that was cool;” then they got married & bought the Farm because they could have goats 🙂 I’m not sure what Carl did as his profession, beyond the farm, but Elaine spent over 40 years volunteering at the Foundation for Blind Children– hence Farm Day.
As a result of her volunteering, Elaine sure knows how to set up a spectacular event for the children!
She had a garden full of goods to taste & smell!
An area set up for finger painting or, in instances where the child wasn’t able to finger paint, ball painting in their wheelchair!
An area that she needed “help” plowing, digging, and planting seeds.
An area to help her pot some plants, that she then let them take home as another souvenir.
A garden shed where they could touch and smell different types of seeds:
A shady picnic spot, for snacks breaks & lunch.
And best of all, a whole bunch of animals! She had goats, chickens, roosters, rabbits, sheep, and a Golden Retriever named Sadie. Alix (who also volunteered with me– yay!) and I spent most of both days that we volunteered assisting with the animals.
On the first day, we hung out mainly with the black fancy chicken and the baby goats, assisting the children as they came by to pet and hear the animals. We tried to make the chickens “cockadodle-dooo” on command for the kids, but it didn’t work 😦
But on our second day of volunteering, we made sure to claim Sweet Pea & Moses the whole time!
Between the first day we volunteered and the second day– a week later– it was crazy how much the animals had grown! The baby bunnies were much bigger and Sweet Pea & Moses had gone from sleeping in our laps all day to running around like little crazy toddlers! They seemed to be in the prime of their “terrible 2’s”….at six weeks old!
Farm Day was just a whole lot of fun. I enjoyed spending time with Alix, meeting Elaine and Carl, and catching those perfect moments when a kid was utterly thrilled to be living life at that very moment. At the same time though, it got me thinking…
The children that came to Farm Day varied from kids who seemed so “normal,” despite their blindness, to profoundly disabled children who had no ability to communicate, with just as severe of physical disabilities to match their mental disabilities. Many of the children were escorted by their parents. I found myself wondering throughout the day what I would do if I were in those parents’ place– would I be strong enough to care for such a disabled child?
In one way, I think absolutely not; I could never be emotionally strong enough to be strong for my own child. For every moment of happiness I saw shine through in a child’s gasp or eye roll (a sign of communication) when they pet the baby goat, I spent ten more moments wondering about their future– what would happen when they reached high school and no longer received state funding for a designated 1:1 aide? Where would they live when they graduated high school? Who would take care of them when their parents passed away? Would they ever be able to go on a dream vacation to Europe, like I am soon, or would their disabilities always hold them back? What if they couldn’t go to college; how would they afford their health care? It was hard to cut off such negative thoughts throughout the day & remind myself to be, like them, purely in the moment; in those perfectly happy moments that they were able to find themselves so easily.
It was those pure, happy moments that make me swing the other way, believing that if someday my own child were to be disabled, I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash, sing “woe is me” or question my ability to be my child’s “rock.” Despite the childrens’ disabilities and all of the accommodations that came with, there was something so normal about the days. Any parent would love to take their child to an event like Farm Day; these children just happen to be disabled. Any child would love to pet a baby goat; these children loved it perhaps even more. An outsider looking in, may not have even realized where the children were from; they could have thought it was just a normal elementary school field trip.
So now that that has ended on quite the serious note 🙂 I want to officially end with one of my favorite pictures from the weekend, one of Sweet Pea and I. I was trying to take a “selfie” of us while she was on my lap, but she kept wiggling & only paused for a moment when I said “1-2-3-CHEESE!!!!” I had no idea what our picture looked like, until I got back to my office & whipped out my phone to check– low and behold, Sweet Pea seems to have gotten the memo to smile 🙂 Too bad I cut my own head off!