Holiday Spirit

Karlene Harris, 3, sits atop Kachina, a miniature horse, as Jasper Ridge Farm volunteers Nicole Hwang, left, and Kate Daly, center, and Karlene's mom, Nicola Harris, right, enjoy festivities at a holiday party at the Ronald McDonald House on Dec. 7, 2016. Jasper Ridge is funded in part by donations to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted Dec. 16, 2016

Jasper Ridge Farm connects kids with animals
Barnyard friends provide carefree diversion for children facing tough times

by Linda Taaffe

After 14 brain surgeries over the past three years -- including three this past month -- few things can get 11-year-old Austin Morgan to jump out of his hospital recovery bed and leave his wheelchair behind more quickly than a visit from Oliver, Buster, Henry, Nikki and Garfunkel.

These aren't your typical hospital visitors. This particular group includes two sheep, a miniature horse, a black lab and a blind lionhead rabbit with long tufts of fur encircling his face.

The eclectic mix of barnyard animals, part of the nonprofit Jasper Ridge Farm in Portola Valley, provides a sort of therapy for children up and down the Peninsula who are facing life-threatening illness, homelessness and other challenges. The animals go to hospitals, homes, homeless and domestic violence shelters and, more recently, county correctional facilities.

The nonprofit, whose summer camp was supported in part by a $5,000 grant from the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund this year, also offers riding programs and animal encounters for children, as well as veterans, at its new 2.5-acre farm at 2720 Alpine Road, which opened in July.

"Austin loves animals and looks forward to coming out to see them every time, even when he feels really sick and tired and doesn't want to move," his mother, Angela Morgan, said on a recent afternoon at Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, where the two have lived for the past year while Austin receives medical treatment.

The weather was chilly, and Austin had undergone major surgery less than 24 hours earlier, but that didn't stop him from heading outside to pet Oliver's woolly back, brush Henry's mane and chat excitedly with the volunteers about the 20 or so animals at the courtyard holiday party.

"I know that goats eat cans, but I didn't expect that they would eat roses because of the thorns," Austin observed while making the rounds to greet each animal. "This one's fur is soft and very warm underneath. ... Oh no, look: He's a sloppy eater!"

His mother said the animals have become a bright spot during his recovery, helping him forget that he's 200 miles away from his home, his dog, his family and friends in El Dorado County. The animals' regular visits have encouraged him to spend his free time learning everything he can about them.

"They all call him the 'Dog Whisperer' around here," she said, smiling.

Executive Director Wendy Mattes said creating a carefree moment for children going through tough times is the inspiration behind Jasper Ridge Farm.

"Animals don't judge you. They don't care where you live, if you've lost your hair to chemo or whatever else," Mattes said. "That's the great gift with these animals. Kids forget why they are in the hospital or at a shelter. I watch them bury their fingers in the sheep's wool and squeal with sheer delight. I can't change their family situation or their health condition, but for a very short time I can bring them an animal and just let them be carefree kids."

Mattes' own health struggles prompted her to reconnect with her love for animals nearly two decades ago. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, she decided to leave her 20-year career as an executive search assistant to pursue her lifelong interest in horses. She became a trainer and horseback-riding instructor.

"I didn't know how many physical years I had left and didn't want to spend them behind a desk talking on a phone," she said.

This unexpected career change ultimately united Mattes with 12-year-old riding student Riley Church, who would became the catalyst for the launch of Jasper Ridge after she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2009. Mattes said when Riley could no longer travel to the barn to see the horses, Mattes borrowed a miniature horse and brought it to the girl's San Carlos house for a surprise visit shortly before she passed away.

"I drove it to the house, walked it up the path, up the stairs and right into the living room," she said. "I can still picture the look on her face when she saw that horse coming into the house.

"Something changed for me after that," she added. "I thought of that visit more and more. It finally hit me that I could bring that same experience to other kids."

Mattes rented a little piece of land from another therapeutic organization in Woodside, adopted a rabbit and partnered with local 4-H members, who loaned her small farm animals to take along on visits.

Today Jasper Ridge Farm offers its Animals Helping Children off-site-visit program, the Horse Buddies Riding program, Summer Camp and other programs.

Last year, the farm served 1,500 children and veterans; it's on track to serve more than 2,000 this year at its new, larger facility on Stanford-owned property leased by Webb Ranch. Jasper Ridge is using the portion of land at the family-run horseback riding facility rent-free for perpetuity.

Jasper Ridge also has access to the full-size horses at Webb Ranch, so it can provide on-site trail-riding lessons. In addition, the farm is seeking to expand its summer camp program from two week-long sessions to as many sessions as financially possible. The free week-long and day camps, which are funded solely by grants, provide transportation, lunch, time to interact with small farm animals, and lessons on horseback riding and animal-care for children from local hospitals, shelters and special-needs schools. A $6,000 grant is enough to provide 12 campers a week-long session.

Jasper Ridge relies entirely on donations and the help of 95 volunteers, who provide everything from loaned animals and poop scooping to assistance for children during trail rides. In 2015, the nonprofit raised $270,000 for programs. The nonprofit is in the process of raising $100,000 to build a covered riding arena, so its programs can run year-round.

"The program has grown so quickly beyond my wildest dreams," Mattes said.

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49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

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College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

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New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

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Peninsula College Fund$10,000

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$5,000

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Herbert Fischgrund100
Claire & Ed Lauing250
John & Martha McLaughlin200
Rob Colley & Kate Godfrey*
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In Memory Of

Kaye Kelley and Richard Van Dusen500
Don Kenyon50
Lew Silvers*
Larry Breed*
Er-Ying and YC Yen250
Jim and Dottie Mellberg250
E. Yanosh Alt20
Millie Rose Coldenhoff100
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Boyd Paulson Jr.*
Phillip Zschokke100
Mary Floyd*
Carol Berkowitz*
Pam Grady250
Lily & Phillip Gottheiner*
Kathy Morris*
August King*
Duncan Matteson1,000
David Mitchell*
Mason & Ryan*
Ian Halliday*
Ted Linden300
Florence K. Ho2,500
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Ray Bacchetti300
Marilyn D. Hansen200
Catherine Chow*
Emmett Lorey*
Betty Meltzer30
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Nancy & Robert Lobdell*
Bob Kirkwood*
Gary Fazzino200
Don & Marie Snow*
Dr. Richard Greene200
Robert O. Jack500
Ruth C. Satterthwaite*
Jack Sutorius500
The Tinney Family250
Hannah & Helen Peterson50
Beverly Aarts*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
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Tom Nolan Esq.100
Bob Merkevitch*
Bob Donald300
In Honor Of

Ada's Cafe*
Mandy Lowell*
Billee Werby100
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Emma & Rich Pompetti500
As a Gift for

Dr. Ned Lund100
Street Cleaners100
Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez2,500
Businesses & Organizations

Packard Foundation25,000
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Palo Alto Business Park*
Perry Foundation 10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run36,900
Sponsors of Moonlight Run:
  Stanford Health Care10,000
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  Sutter Health/
Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
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  Facebook5,000
  Deleon Realty5,000
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  Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
  Lakin Spears2,000
  Bank of the West1,500
Bleibler Properties LLC500
deLemos Properties LLC200
Johnson & Johnson Foundation1,000

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