LACKAWANNOCK TWP., Pa. (WKBN) – A local farm that has made itself a haven for children with autism is opening its gates this weekend for National Alpaca Farm Days.
This year marks the 17th annual Alpaca Farm Days, held on Sept. 23 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Participating members of the Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. (AOA) will open their farms to the public, allowing people to learn more about the animals and the products they produce.
Sandshaven Farm uses an assortment of animals ranging from chickens to alpacas to interact with families. They address social skills, communication and sensory-related issues.
Sharon Dodds and her husband, Scott, got the idea after their son, Bright, was born with autism. Dodds is a certified poultry technician and pastor and says she spent years reading and learning to prepare.
She says the farm has worked with around 35 kids over the years, allowing them to take on various jobs depending on what fits their interests. Some work with the alpacas, others with the guinea fowl, some work in the garden, and others visit just to enjoy the peace of the woods.
They also make crafts while there, some to take home and others to sell at the Sandshaven shop.
“Everything the kids make, they make one for themselves and one to sell,” Dodds said.
The shop has a variety of products for sale, including alpaca rugs, gloves, socks, and even bar soap covered in alpaca fur that works as a loofah.
“Alpaca products keep the moisture away while keeping you warm or cold,” Dodds said. “You’ll find no one will ever be allergic to it.”
Also at the store are pennies crafted as part of Dodd’s involvement in the Shimmy Mob – an organization designed to raise awareness of domestic violence.
Wool from the farm is gathered and bagged then sent to a co-op. The organization then determines the weight and quality of wool sent and assigns a dollar amount to it then ships products, such as gloves and socks, back to the farm to sell.
Dodds says kids love spending time at the farm and surrounding woods.
“Playing in the woods is therapeutic all by itself,” Dodds said. “If they’re screaming or hand flapping, go for it. It seems like when you’re out in public people want autistic people to act like they’re not, and they are. And that, I think, is the big difference: here, they can just be themselves.”
Dodds says everything they do at the farm with kids is free.
“We don’t do it for the money, we do it for people who need it. … Especially people with autism in their family, they need this little bit of peace.”
Dodds says she eventually would like to build a community center and church so she can continue to help people.
This is the fifth year that Sandshaven will be participating in Alpaca Farm Days. There will be concessions, demonstrations, and bags of alpaca fur for the kids. For a complete list of farms participating in Alpaca Farm Days, click here.