After learning the benefits of people with special needs interacting with animals, Shawna and David Hodges started a farm for their son with Down syndrome. The 54-acre farm and includes a petting zoo, a train, playgrounds, and farm animals that children and adults with special needs can interact with.
Recently, The Chronicle-Telegram featured the Hodges, telling their incredible story.
When David and Shawna's youngest son, Grady, was born with Down syndrome nine years ago, the family began researching programs to help Grady. That's when they learned activities with animals "can be invaluable for children who are nonverbal or may have problems with mobility" or other special needs, according to The Chronicle-Telegram.
"It's an unconditional love and acceptance between the animal and the people. It helps the kids, it builds their self-esteem. It teaches compassion and responsibility as they learn to care for another living being. There are so many perks," Shawna told The Chronicle-Telegram.
But many people can't afford animal-assisted therapies, such as hippotherapy—using horseback riding to create connections, strengthen muscles, and calm anxieties—that can cost over $100 per session.
"We thought it was unfair that not all kids could have these benefits," Shawna told The Chronicle-Telegram. "We wanted a farm with costs so minimal all families could afford it."
And that's when the non-profit Downs on the Farm began.
In addition to helping those with special needs, Downs on the Farm is a sanctuary for neglected animals the organization has rescued. "We also teach self-sustainability, the importance of responsible agriculture, and natural growing techniques for your garden," the organization's website states.
What an inspiring story of Mormons doing good in their community.