Teens and Animals Heal Together at This Sanctuary

At-risk kids learn coping skills thanks to the wild animals.


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Animal sanctuaries are places where wild animals can live out their lives in safety. This is especially important if the animal is injured and needs some tender care. That's exactly what Wildmind does for the over 50 non-releasable animals that live in the redwood forests of the sanctuary in Half Moon Bay, California.

Sometimes kids need a sanctuary where they can heal too. That's why the Wildmind, a nonprofit founded in 1980 by environmentalist Steve Karlin, also runs a program for city kids from nearby San Jose and San Francisco. All of the kids, like the animals in the sanctuary also have been injured and are also in need of healing.

According to the organization, these at-risk young people have abused or neglected, in foster care, the juvenile justice system, or whose family members may have been deported. They will begin to heal and develop coping skills. But at the sanctuary, people aren't the teachers, animals are.

According to Nation Swell, a child who is homeless may be empowered by Luna, a one-eyed great horned owl who was injured when she was hit by a car. Or another child who has been through the juvey system can begin to trust by hearing the story of Inali, a red fox who was abandoned after a storm.

The kids in the program are referred to Wildmind by shelters, schools or youth agencies. The groups of 10 to 15 teens come once a month for nine months. In the time it takes to create new life, these troubled youth are learning to turn theirs around with some help from the animals.

Each day starts with a healing circle and then the "wild teachers" are introduced. “The animals provide examples of surviving, overcoming obstacles and adapting to their environments, and that’s really what it’s all about for young people in crisis,” Chris Kelley, the executive director of Wildmind told Nation Swell.

While the teens are in the program, they help out by working on a group project that can be helping to construct a new animal habitat. They end each session with a trek around the 3-acre property. Since this program began in 2001, around 2,500 kids have been helped.

Wildlife educator Jen Motroni said that it is incredible to watch the kids open up more and more through the months. Kids who have never met before becoming close friends and they learn from each other. “Many times, they open up to us about the abuses and the trials and tribulations they go through,” she said.

The organization also runs an education program that brings science and environmentalism I not local classrooms. But the at-risk dual nature program according to Karlin was developed to provide young people a forum for opening up, to begin trusting people, and to share their experiences.  Wildmind gives them a safe space to do it in.

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