A Modern Ark of Hope

By Mark Stubis, Human & Environmental Welfare Columnist
Jan 10, 2011 – 6:02:00 AM

(HealthNewsDigest.com) – Even before Noah and his wife supposedly shepherded two of every species up the wooden gangplank of his eponymous ark, it was clear that the fates of Mankind and the animals of the Earth were inextricably intertwined. We sensed long ago (and ecologists have since confirmed) that humans and our fellow voyagers are all interconnected and depend greatly on each other.

So it was a welcome surprise to learn that a modern-day couple has created another vessel of hope where people and animals alike may find shelter from a rising tide of dangers and challenges, old and new.

Located in the Poconos, just outside of Milford, Pennsylvania, Country Ark Farm provides recreational, pet and art therapy experiences for mentally, emotionally and physically challenged children and adults. The nonprofit organization is situated on a 26-acre farm that is also home to a menagerie of cows, pigs, goats, birds, coati-mundis, sheep, horses, dogs and many other well-socialized animals.

Founders Donna and Mike Ciancitto arrange on-site and off-site visits for groups, programs, institutions and schools that specialize in working with exceptional individuals. More than 800 visitors each year experience the benefits of direct, hands-on contact with a wide range of people-friendly animals and recreational programs. Country Ark Farm, which opened its doors in 1990, boasts an enclosed petting zoo, art and recreational therapies, clean handicapped-accessible restrooms, an outdoor play area with a wheelchair-accessible swing, indoor and outdoor picnic areas, and a mile-long nature trail. In addition to day and short-term residential programs, there is a summer camp, and even a respite program, where parents of disabled children can leave their youngsters to enjoy a day in the country while they attend to other important matters.

There is a lot for guests to see at Country Ark Farm, and the sheer variety of living things would probably awe even Noah. The farm hosts an abecedarium of animals, including African guinea hens, African porcupine, African pygmy goats, African spur tortoises, Aoudad sheep, Australian emu, ball python, Barbados black-bellied sheep, bearded dragon, Bennett wallabies, Brahmin/Brown Swiss cow, capybaras, Cochin chickens, Dutch Warm Blood horse, exotic Asian pheasants, golden pheasants, Great Pyrenees dogs, Indian blue peacocks, Indian Muntjac deer, Lady Amherst pheasant, Mediterranean miniature donkeys, miniature Nubian goat, Moufloun sheep, Mandarin ducks, Nubian goat, Pekin ducks, rabbits, red golden pheasant, reticulated python, Silkie chickens, silver pheasant, South American coati-mundi, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, white-tailed deer, and a yellow golden pheasant. Which makes us ask only one question: What happened to the zebra?

Country Ark Farms relies primarily on donations from visitors and others, and hopes to expand its programs to help bring its healing experiences to more of the disabled and the disheartened.

The effect of interactions between animals and depressed, handicapped and autistic children is especially heartwarming. Youngsters who may not have smiled in weeks or months are known to break out in grins or pour out a torrent of words and affection on their new furred and feathered friends.

“For children, especially those with some type of mental health or developmental challenge, play, art, and recreational activities can be particularly helpful,” says Dr. Robin F. Goodman, psychologist and art therapist with expertise in trauma. “The experiences also offer ways for the children to increase their confidence, develop skills, and explore new ways of coping. With animals, they also can learn empathy, responsibility and to both give and gain trust, nurturing, and acceptance – powerful feelings that may have been damaged and that they may desperately need.”

In the end, the physical experience of contact between humans and animals not only offers comfort and healing for some of our most vulnerable children and adults, it also builds a deeper appreciation for and connection to the other creatures with whom we share our planet.

And that’s a touching story in every way.

Country Ark Farm’s Programs:

Day Groups (April to mid-June)

Summer Day Camp (late June to late August) for specially-abled children ages 4-21. For sponsorship applications, please call Maria Crawford at the Ingeborg A. Biondo Memorial Foundation at (570) 686-2402.

Respite Program (all year)

Specially-Abled Volunteer Groups (September to mid-June)

To make arrangements for any of these programs, please contact Program Director Donna Ciancitto at 570-686-3480 or caf1@ptd.net . All visits must be scheduled prior to arrival.

Mark Stubis is a national nonprofit, healthcare and media executive with more than 20 years of experience working with leading charities, Fortune 500 companies, and global news organizations. An award-winning creator of public-issue awareness and prevention campaigns, Stubis’ work has been carried by more than 100,000 newspapers, TV and radio stations, and websites in 100 countries around the world. In his free time, the Juilliard-trained musician plays the piano and chess at his castle in the New York City area. You can contact him at markstubis@msn.com .



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