KAPA‘A — The Kaua‘i Animal Education Center hosts ‘Ohana Days the last Saturday of the month from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Kapa‘a for families looking for some fun with live animals.
The nonprofit has to keep the number of people on property low to remain “COVID-compliant,” according to KAEC Founder and Chief Executive Officer Christy Wong.
So, the center has been hosting one family at a time, or about five people at once, to see the approximately 15 different species that live on the KAEC farm. Those interested can sign up online. The cost is $25 for a group of five.
A visit to KAEC means interacting with goats and pigs, a duck and a donkey, pigeons and turtles and more. In addition to being an educational farm, the center is also the only farm animal-rescue facility on Kaua‘i.
“This is a really great time for the family to bond with each other, take a break get away from the norm,” Wong said, pointing out that a visit to the farm could help shake away the pandemic blues.
“When you come to the farm, you’re able to see goats jumping around, and you’re feeding them or you’re just watching how they’re interacting with each other. It just lightens your mood, and it’s so good.”
In addition to being open to the public, the educational farm partners with other nonprofits and organizations, such as Child Welfare Services, where KAEC serves as a site for court-mandated visits between children in foster care and their parents who are working through court-mandated steps to regain custody in some form.
“So the court mandates these visits between the parents and the children. At the farm, the conversation is natural. They are really breaking down those barriers and allows the communication, the healing, the enjoyment. And all of that can happen so effortlessly,” Wong said.
KAEC Secretary Nicole Cowan, who also works remotely for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, said she has seen firsthand what KAEC has done for Kaua‘i’s keiki.
“I am a big sister as well, and one of my first outings with my little sister was going out to the farm,” Cowan said. “(My little sister) was terrified of all of the animals. She didn’t want to touch any of them. But by the end of the day, she was touching most of them.”
Cowan said she’s seen that transformation in several children, and sees value in letting keiki work with the animals.
“It has been really special to see our kids being able to work with animals that they would not normally ever get to see up close, right, and then being able to learn about all of the native plants that they see every day on the side of the road but we never know how special they are,” Cowan said.
Teaching people how to interact with animals and passing on the lessons learned from caring for animals is part of the KAEC mission. But plants aren’t forgotten at the farm. There are also learning opportunities for keiki who want to understand gardening and growing plants.
“And then everything that they’re doing becomes a symbiotic showcase for what’s happening in their own minds,” Wong explained.
“The growth, the healing, the nurturing, the communication, the knowledge that they’re gaining by learning all these new techniques with either animal husbandry or gardening is long-lasting.”
Dr. Addison Bulosan of Lihu‘e volunteers at KAEC because he finds it healing and beneficial to others and himself.
“When the pandemic hit, there was zero to little options for people, particularly kids, to get assistance in the mental-health realm,”Bulosan said.
“So this was like a no-brainer, the opportunity for our community to both be outdoors and pet the animals — just get to our grassroots of our human being (and) heal.”
Another volunteer, Sandy Poehnelt, said KAEC does a lot of things for the community.
“They do a ton of work with the kids, which I really am impressed with,” Poehnelt said. “They always have children’s programs. So the kids can learn about not only the animals, but native plants, and just taking care of the land, being responsible and being respectful.”
On Saturday, May 1, volunteers at KAEC are partnering with the Rotary Club of Kaua‘i in a tree-planting event celebrating Arbor Day, which lands on April 30.
The group is planting more than $1,000 worth of native and citrus trees on the farm. The trees are being purchased with funds donated by the Rotary Club of Kaua‘i.
“This is helping serve our mission and taking care of the animals, because we’re the only farm animal-rescue (facility) on Kaua‘i,” Wong said.
To volunteer or book a visit, see kauaianimaleducationcenter.org.
Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.