New Project: Ashburn's Ark

One of the new projects instituted this year is "Ashburn's Ark." This project is an initiative that partners SU SIFE members with Ashburn's Animals on a Mission (AAM), a non-profit program "dedicated to enhancing the well-being of people of all ages and abilities through animal/human interaction." The site is managed by Janel Ashburn, an advocate for animal care as well as human wellness.

Taking Care of Animals in Need

AAM is a haven for abandoned, donated, traded, and/or rescued animals that thrive through the good heart and hard work of Janel and her many volunteers. Two volunteers, in particular, Colton Moyer and Dustin Koons, both Susquehanna University students, have been crucial to the success of the enterprise, which is less than a year old. The AAM facility is a working farm and the home of a biblical array of animals. The community includes horses, ponies, donkeys, rabbits, turkeys, and a collection of chickens and geese. The family also comprises a more exotic collection: a miniature horse and cow as well as fainting goats, Tunis sheep, an African tortoise, rheas, a skunk ( missing scent gland), llamas, hair sheep, teacup pot belly pigs, and hedgehogs. Noah would be proud!

Animals on a Mission

The impact of the animals is powerful on and off the farm. The animals help individuals in need – especially individuals who have a disability, a problem, or a mental, physical, or emotional challenge. The help, Janel believes, results from a "connection" that the animals provide.

Hosting individuals and groups on the grounds of Ashburn's farm provides those in need the opportunities to interact personally, socially, physically, emotionally, and verbally with a variety of animals and, in doing so, develop a trust and connection that translates to positive interactions with their peers and their world. Individuals from SUNCOM Industries, a nonprofit, human services agency which helps people with developmental and physical disabilities improve the quality of their lives, visit the farm at least twice a week. While there, they feed, water, and groom their adopted animal – even pick hooves if necessary.

Through these sensory experiences, these individuals develop their self-confidence, come out of their shells, take on responsibility, overcome fixations, and improve communications skills. Ultimately, these individuals learn to trust, feel unconditional love, and giggle, laugh, and smile – significant changes in very little time. Those who visit the farm on a one to one ba-sis experience the same results.

When the mobile petting zoo travels to local communities and camps, individuals are encouraged to experience all that the Animals on a Mission offers. Whether individuals walk, are carried, or roll their wheel chairs into the petting area, they touch, pet, feed, and/or ride the ani-mals. The effects are the same: individuals of all ages and challenges respond positively.

One of the special opportunities afforded Janel and her group has been their partnership with Camp Victory, which offers different camps for children who suffer from a variety of chronic illnesses as well as for children who have mental and physical disabilities. These camps include Camp Courage and Camp Little Brave Hearts (bereavement camps, the latter for ages 4-7), Camp EMERGE (autism camp), Camp Kydnie (kidney disease), and Camp Dost (children's cancer) – to name only a few. Everyone involved with these experiences believes that the initiative has surpassed expectations. However, the fiscal realities often threaten the mission's sustainability. This is where SU SIFE enters the picture and will, hopefully, have an impact!

The Role of SU SIFE and the Ashburn's Ark Project

The goal of our Ashburn's Ark Project and SU SIFE's partnership with Animals on a Mission is to do all that we can to help Janel's program become self-sustainable. In addition to our members' joining Dustin and Colton as volunteers at the farm, SU SIFE has begun developing and implementing our own sustainability plans with Janel.

Brett Moyer, a finance and economics major, drafted and submitted two grant proposals, and we have already received news that our Sam's Club proposal was accepted. That insures Ashburn's Animals on a Mission with a $1,000 stipend for the insulation of the animals' living areas. Brett has also submitted a proposal for a Lowe's grant. Those specifics focus on materials and construction of ramps that would provide disabled individuals or those restricted to wheelchairs more accessibility to the facility and to mounting horses for therapeutic rides. Likewise, accounting major Bill Davis is in the process of developing a business plan as well as a marketing plan for Janel. Bill is also working with ideas that target economic resources regarding market research. Hopefully, these initiatives will help raise the level of the business end of the Animals on a Mission to the level of its services. Also, senior finance and economics major Pat Murphy has already promoted Ashburn's Animals on a Mission on his website; and senior marketing major Keith Conly is consulting with Janel and Colton on upgrading the Animals on a Mission's website. To promote awareness of what Ashburn's initiative is and how it empowers individuals in need, members of the Ashburn's Ark project plan to invite Janel and company to campus during the spring weekend festivities. At this time, other options are being considered to promote partnerships and generate support.

SU SIFE's commitment to the Ashburn's Ark project is a total one, and we hope to continue our support as long as we can fulfill a need. We look forward to helping Animals on a Mission become self-sustainable and grow so that many other individuals in need will benefit from the program's amazing impact.