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Farm Animal Encounter at Helen Kaplan Center

All-around sensory experience for residents: Animal therapy, essential oils, snow cones, music and more!

Citizens Options Unlimited’s Helen Kaplan Center Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) kept the Memorial Day festivities going on Tuesday, May 28, with plenty of outdoor activities for residents, staff, and families to enjoy.

Helen Kaplan Center residents petting and feeding farm animals from Long Island Pony Parties and Petting Zoo.
Helen Kaplan Center residents enjoyed petting and feeding farm animals from Long Island Pony Parties and Petting Zoo.

At 11 a.m., residents and staff began venturing outside to join the party, which included an all-around sensory experience with a petting zoo brought by Long Island Pony Parties and Petting Zoo, jams by Paulie B Acoustic, complimentary snow cones and cotton candy, and a Mental Health Awareness Month table with essential oils, sensory toys, and educational materials about mental health.

Sensory experiences like these are vital in terms of providing fulfilling and enriching experiences for the residents at Helen Kaplan Center, which serves 56 people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) who are medically frail and require 24-7 supports.

At the petting zoo, residents sat underneath tents to protect them from the warm sun, as animal handlers from the petting zoo brought the silkie chickens, a Gold Laced Polish Chicken, goats, bunnies, sheep, and Daffy the Donkey, to the residents and staff, who got to feed and pet their new fuzzy friends.

Rhonda Selvy, a resident of Helen Kaplan Center,pets a bunny.
Rhonda Selvy, a resident of Helen Kaplan Center, liked the bunnies.

Roz Adler, a resident of Helen Kaplan Center, enjoyed the up-close experience of many kinds of animals. With the help of an animal handler, Roz had the opportunity to pet the Gold Laced Polish Chicken, a sheep, goats, Daffy the Donkey, and a bunny, while asking questions about the animals she was petting.

“I liked them all,” Roz, who grew up with a parakeet and a dog, said of the animals she saw that day. Roz added that she enjoyed everything the event had to offer, including the snow cones and the music. Roz ordered a lemon-lime snow cone, perfect for the unofficial start to the summer season.

Rhonda Selvy, a fellow resident of Helen Kaplan Center, also enjoyed the day, particularly the bunnies who she calls “babies.” From her wheelchair, Rhonda gave a calm bunny lots of pets and attention.

And Wilhelmina Waldinger enjoyed petting the donkeys and the goats from her wheelchair. The goats were curious about Wilhelmina’s proud collection of key chains that she keeps on her lanyard.

Wilhelmina Waldinger, a resident of Helen Kaplan Center, petting a donkey.
Wilhelmina Waldinger, a resident of Helen Kaplan Center, liked petting the four-legged friends, including Daffy the Donkey and the goats.

After experiencing other parts of the events, such as the music and snacks, Wilhemina returned once more so she could give a goat a few last pets before the event ended.

“We try to develop activities for the residents, so that they enjoy community with each other and the staff,” said Marta Garavito, the Director of Helen Kaplan Center. “Staff gets to enjoy it at the same time, and when residents get that vibe from the staff, they relax themselves and enjoy it too.”

Beyond just having fun, the activities provided at the event incorporate aspects of mental wellness.

“We try to incorporate all kinds of therapies, and it’s working,” Marta said. “Everybody is relaxing and enjoying it.”

Animal therapy, for example, helps to reduce boredom, raise spirits, increase activity through movement and play, assuage loneliness through companionship and social interaction and improve overall well-being.

Guardianship Manager Eileen Stewart-Rooney handing Roz Adler, a resident, a lemon-lime snow cone.
Guardianship Manager Eileen Stewart-Rooney handed Roz Adler, a resident, a lemon-lime snow cone.

“You could just see that it lifted their spirits,” Psychologist Jessica Lombardo said. “Everyone was smiling and all happy, petting the animals and getting to see them and interact with them. There really have been proven benefits of increasing physical and mental well-being and mental health. People tend to develop a great bond with the animals.”

The essential oils, sensory toys, snow cones and cotton candy made by Quality Assurance Manager Valerie Himberger and music from Paulie B Acoustic also provide wellness benefits, such as stimulating the senses of smell, touch, taste, and hearing.

“I think it benefits the people we support. I think it benefits the staff,” said Sallyanne Burgess, Vice President of Operations. “It gets people thinking differently, in the day-to-day stress. This is just amazing. We got perfect weather. I think this is an extremely beneficial event.”

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