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Student program helps children overcome hardship with farm animals

A horse on Windy Acres farm, where children are brought for the Animals as Natural Therapy Outpatient Program. // Photo courtesy of Courtney Lee

For many students, senior year is full of internships and graduation plans. For Western senior Courtney Lee, an internship led to the creation of a brand new rehabilitation program designed to aid children recovering from chemical dependency and substance abuse.

Lee, a human services major, created the Animals as Natural Therapy Outpatient program during an internship required for one of her courses.

The program, which caters to children ages 12 to 17, shares the therapeutic practices used by Lee’s collaborator, the Animals as Natural Therapy organization, and is carried out at the Catholic Community Services Recovery Center.

The ANT organization allows people in recovery to connect with all kinds of animals, but usually with horses. Lee’s program integrates the idea that animals can give them some comfort and can read how the children feel, Lee said.

Her Animals as Natural Therapy Outpatient program was something Lee felt could make a difference for healing children from her personal experience with animals.

“I’ve been out at a farm where I was from and I always thought animals really helped kids,” Lee said.

Animals as Natural Therapy has collaborated with CCS Recovery in the past, working with pregnant and parenting women. The program had not been incorporated at the Recovery Center in eight years and this was the first time it had been proposed for children, said Meghan Lever, a chemical dependency counselor at CCS.

The Animals as Natural Therapy organization practices at Windy Acres, a 5-acre farm situated at the edge of Bellingham. Lee’s program has brought the children out to Windy Acres to see the animals twice since it was established April 7.

“Each time I leave feeling happier than the last, and just seeing them experience that and the fact that I helped put that program together is a really good feeling,” Lee said.

Her idea was also to create awareness of rehabilitation options available in Bellingham. There is a lack of outlets for the children, especially for the ones who don’t know a lot about the places available to them, Lee said.

“We see a need in this community to reach out to these people who are in recovery,” Lee said.

Lee was inspired to work in human services by her past experiences.

“What made me really want to get into it was when I used to nanny for a little girl in my hometown who was adopted and I loved hearing her story about the adoption process,” Lee said, “I also had a conversation with my grandmother about a month before she died and she told me she just knew I had a helping spirit.”

Lee and Lever collaborated on the program as intern and counselor, respectively, and worked on getting the program up and running in December 2014.

“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through to get things like that started,” Lee said.

Their work was lined up with the CSS Recovery Center’s objective of providing care for those who cannot afford private insurance.

CCS serves a population that, in general, does not get served by other resources that are out there, Lever said.

“For them to have the opportunity to do this is, I think, pretty amazing,” Lever said.

Annie Charlton, a classmate of Lee’s and an intern at CCS, has studied and worked alongside Lee throughout her major.

"I think the program is a phenomenal idea and something kids don't have the opportunity to do in their daily lives," Charlton said. "It kind of gets them out of their comfort zone a little bit."

As an intern at CCS for three quarters, Lee’s commitment has influenced the process of rehabilitation there, Lever said.

"[Lee] brings a lot of energy and willingness to go with the flow and be innovative, Lever said. “It has been awesome to work with her.”

Since spring quarter is her last quarter at Western, Lee will be leaving Bellingham for Portland and looking into getting her masters degree in counseling. She is also contemplating applying in fall 2015 for Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that sends teachers into low-income communities.


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