HERSHEY, Pa. — Hope Springs Farm in Hershey, Dauphin County is a unique facility that hosts a day program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm was forced to close its doors back in March.
Jim Gainer, the program director at the farm explains, "We have alpacas, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, four cats, and two miniature horses. So they’re kind of regular farm animals.”
Gainer says, “On the 17th we shut down and then we all went home on the 20th, that Friday. But, we still had to feed the animals, mow the grass, do the gardening, and all that stuff still needed done. So, a lot of the staff came back just as volunteers.”
The volunteers and other laid-off staff understood how essential the farm and its program was to the program participants, also called Growers. While doing maintenance at the farm, they began their search for ways to reconnect virtually.
Gainer says, “We went out to the farm and I took my iPhone and we just took a little video, you know, ‘Here are your animals, here are your gardens it’ll all be here when you get back.’” This idea laid the foundation for what turned into daily Zoom Farm Parties.
“They get so excited in the morning. I just heard from one again today that when she gets up in the morning she reminds her mom, ‘Hey don’t forget we have the zoom party today,'" Gainer explains.
Growers not only get to see all of their friends from the farm, but they also get a virtual tour of their animals and their gardens. Other fun activities that are included in the Zoom parties are crafts, cooking, yoga and story reading.
Gainer adds, “While we’re volunteering and while we’re there, we’re really making an effort to work with the animals and keep them socialized by giving them that interaction that they’re used to.” However, even with the interaction from the volunteers, the animals are craving more attention.
“We come up to the fences or we come up to the gates or sometimes I’ll just go and rattle the chain and they come running because they want to see somebody. They’re kind of missing their growers too," Gainer says.
Plans for a social distance friendly environment on the farm are currently in the works, but it may be some time before all of the Growers are able to return.