An organization that believes in the power of the animal/human bond to break the cycle of violence will celebrate its new home in South Surrey at a gala event Sept. 12.
Semiahmoo Animal League Inc. took possession of the four-acre property in December, transforming its outbuildings and grounds into a haven for rescued farm animals and at-risk children.
“It’s beautiful,” SALI founder and executive director Keryn Denroche said this week of the property, as she took in the freshly painted red barn, stable and chicken coop, new picket fences and a flourishing garden.
“By us leasing this property, we’ve got so much more potential.”
SALI was created in 2008, and, three years later, began offering programs for children aged three to 12 who have been exposed to some sort of risk or trauma, or are in danger of failing in school.
The children – who attend by referral only – come for one hour per week for eight weeks. Each is paired with a SALI volunteer, and participates in one animal-assisted and one garden-focused activity per visit.
The opportunities are often simple, and can range from working in the garden to feeding the animals or cleaning their enclosures. The key, said Denroche, is the tasks are purpose-driven; they teach the children that they can contribute in a positive way, and that what they do matters.
In return, the animals give the children unconditional love and acceptance – something some of them rarely experience.
“They feel so good about themselves when they’re done,” said Denroche. “They get what they need from a chicken – someone that doesn’t care that they’re short, that they have a stutter…”
Other animals on the farm – on 176 Street not far from Surrey Fire Hall 14 – include horses Chase and Badger, five cats and eight rabbits.
Program director Chris Mayworm said many of the children referred by the Surrey School District are struggling simply because they learn differently than their peers, and act out as a result of that.
At the farm, they can just be themselves.
Mayworm said one teacher told her the program was the first time that adults outside of school were treating the students as regular kids – and they responded in kind.
“They run, they jump, they laugh, they smile,” Mayworm said.
One boy who was described in reports as a danger to animals because of an accident involving a puppy, was “the most gentlest, sensitive boy to all of the animals” when he was at the farm, she said.
“Once a week for eight weeks, he got a totally different message about who he is.
“We really believe it just takes that one person to say, you are of value.”
Volunteer Corie Ladouceur agreed, describing the difference she saw in the children she’s worked with through the program as “amazing.”
“All of them are so different and it benefits them in so many ways,” said Ladouceur, 18.
“It definitely solidified that I want to work with kids and animals.”
Denroche said the Sept. 12 Black Tails & Boots Gala is an opportunity for the public to see and feel what SALI is about firsthand.
In addition to seeing the results of efforts by the “army” of volunteers who helped clean and renovate the property – including from Telus, Home Depot and Semiahmoo Rotary – gala guests will be treated to a gourmet dinner, and have the opportunity to meet the people and animals of SALI. Other highlights of the evening are to include live music, cocktails, farm tours and photos with SALI’s four-legged therapists.
The gala is the organization’s biggest fundraiser, and all proceeds will benefit the children’s programs and animal care.
Last year, it generated $20,000, and Denroche and Mayworm are hoping this year’s event will surpass that.
Denroche said sponsorship opportunities are still available; as well, they are still looking for a few more auction items.
For more information and tickets, visit sali.ca. To learn about volunteer opportunities at SALI, visit www.sali.ca/get-involved/volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-657-2957.