WALL TOWNSHIP — A groundbreaking ceremony next week to begin construction of the Robert H. Harris Equestrian Center at Allaire Community Farm has been canceled due to projected inclement weather.
The new center, which is being funded by the largest donation that the farm has ever received, at $330,000, will allow patrons of the farm, rain or shine, to have the opportunity to take a calming ride on horseback, one of programs the nonprofit offers for those with mental health issues as part of the farm’s Therapeutic Riding Program.
The donation is being made by Mary Ellen Harris, who is funding the equestrian center in memory of her husband Robert, a horse lover who died five years ago. According to JoAnn Burney, co-founder and director of Allaire Community Farm, Ms. Harris is a major animal lover who jumped to donate to this project.
“[With this donation] we’re building an indoor arena, which means in the rain or when the fields are muddy we won’t have to cancel our lessons. Those lessons are done by veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and done with special needs populations for therapeutic benefits, and we also do it for people who are mobility challenged,” Ms. Burney said.
The indoor arena will be 72 feet by 152 feet. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is being rescheduled.
Since opening in 2013, Allaire Community Farm has been helping people with various special needs, which Ms. Burney said has become even more important in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re an animal rescue and we work with special-needs populations, teens with mental-health issues,” Ms. Burney explained. “We work with over 40 agencies in Monmouth County that deal with teens with mental health issues, and right now that’s a big problem with COVID. “We also work with veterans, with people with PTSD.”
The farm has also partnered with Whole Foods each Sunday to put together baskets of food for families who have a member dealing with cancer; and since the pandemic began, has also been providing food for local families struggling financially.
Through the height of COVID this summer, the farm also transformed its 100-year-old barn into an organic-food market for the community, with an online store around mid-July when people became more comfortable returning to supermarkets.
The farm has been closed since Christmas, but looks to reopen to the public soon with nice weather. It is open every day except for Sunday, and typically hosts most of its programs for its target special-needs population during the weekdays, with over seven high schools coming regularly.
The farm trains the special-needs students and young adults to work at the market and around the farm, in order to eventually attain future employment through a program begun last spring, Harvesting Occupational and Professional Excellence [HOPE].
“Congressman [Chris] Smith had asked that in New Jersey, we focused on the age 21 and older population for special needs, and it’s going great so far,” Ms. Burney said. “We have these interns come in. It’s prevocational training. What we do is we take a young person that is on the high end of the [autism] spectrum, but is not yet ready to enter the workforce, and we do the job-coaching and the skills-training to get them to point where they can become hirable, either at another facility or at our own facility.”
“It gives people who ordinarily don’t have the confidence or the skill set yet to get a job, to give them the skills they need to go on to have meaningful employment.”
The farm is also open to the general public. There is a petting zoo and over 100 animals on the farm’s 25.5-acre property. Entry to the farm costs $5 for an adult and $3 for children. All the proceeds go toward the upkeep of the farm and its programs. The farm also does a limited number for kids’ birthday parties on the weekends.
“During COVID, this was our busiest year ever,” Ms. Burney said, due to families looking for quick outdoor escapes. “People loved it.”
For more information about the Allaire Community Farm, visit https://allairecommunityfarm.org.
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