Posted on Dec 20, 2018
We are well known in the world for saving animals who have nowhere else to go because they are too old, too sick, too lame, or too scared to be adopted by anyone else. But we also work with children who no one knows what to do with because they are too scared, too shut down, and too angry to respond to traditional therapy. Like our animals, these children have suffered the worst, have no hope, have forgotten how wonderful they are, and come to The Gentle Barn to be reminded that they matter. Eight years ago the LAPD PALS Program found us and started bringing children here from the inner city. They identified the most at risk and brought them to our program to heal with the animals, in an effort to keep them in school, help them get good grades, go on to college, and end up with more possibilities than their parents had. The very first group they brought was elementary school kids ranging from 9-12. After hugging, holding, kissing, and feeding the animals, we ended the tour at the wishing well so they could make a wish. At The Gentle Barn, we try to help the kids cultivate self-awareness and hope for the future in any way we can. And as I explained how to put our hands on the magic rocks of the well, close our eyes, and make a wish, one of the boys blurted out, “wishes don’t come true!” Tears stung my eyes as I realized that these kids didn’t have warm clothes in the cold, didn’t have shoes that fit them, didn’t have intact families, and worst of all, they didn’t even have hope! I explained that the Gentle Barn was my wish when I was seven years old, and because I refused to give up, I created my dream years later. I was able to encourage all of them to make wishes that day, but I tossed and turned in bed that night, thinking about those broken children and wondered what else I could do for them.
About a month later a man called us and told us that there were 250 abandoned toys in his warehouse and offered them to us knowing that we work with kids. Elated, Jay and I knew just what to do with them! We piled all of them in the back of the Gentle Barn truck and drove down to the projects in South Central Los Angeles to give holiday cheer to the kids there. With a police escort we went door to door and handed out gifts. It was so much fun! Word quickly spread that we were there and kids ran down the street to us to retrieve their gifts with huge smiles on their faces. The very last house that we visited was a duplex with a very old and rickety staircase to the second floor. The kids tumbled down the stairs, got their gifts, smiled at us, and ran back up to play. A few minutes later a woman came to the top of the stairs with a prosthetic leg and wanted to thank us. We tried to come up to her, but she held up her hand and insisted on walking down to us. Once she made it down the stairs she came over to me to say thank you and give me a hug. I hugged her back and then went to let go, but she held on to me. For ten minutes she cried in my arms as I held her, and in that hug, I could feel her life struggle. I could feel her shame at not being able to provide what she wanted for her children, her exhaustion at being a single mother and working full time, all the pain of her life, and her gratitude to us for bringing her a tiny bit of relief. By the time Jay and I reached the car we were both sobbing, and we looked at each other and promised that we would do this every single year.
That one trip in the pick-up truck turned into an annual event where we now take over the entire courtyard of the fire department. We have a bouncy house, vegan food, Mr. and Mrs. Clause, arts and crafts, face painting, clothes, toys, and gifts. Last year we gave out gifts to fifteen hundred children, and this year we hope to do even more. It is our give back to those that don’t have even the basic things that we take for granted. It is our day of service to the families in the heart of the inner city who are often forgotten, hopeless, and struggling. If we can give them but one day of celebration, ease, happiness, and fun, perhaps that can become something to reach for in their lives, and they will know that happiness is attainable! Bringing cheer to South Central is what the holidays are all about. Please check out our Instagram, Twitter, and FaceBook pages today to see the smiling faces, and feel the love! Many thanks to all of you who sent gifts for the children, our volunteers, and the LAPD Pals Program for doing this with us!
Sometimes when we post about animals on our social media pages, we have a few people who ask us why we aren’t helping people. And then when we post on social media that we are helping people, they tell us that they would rather us help animals. But for me, offering help, giving out love, and inspiring joy to anyone is a God thing. Helping animals, helps people be healthier and have a more sustainable environment. And helping people live better lives, helps them be more aware of animals that are not. Helping anyone helps everyone! For us, the holidays are not about what we get, but rather about what we give. Thank you for your support so we can help as many as we can!