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School of Education Alumni News

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UW alum Barre’s Heartland Farm Sanctuary helping animals, individuals in need

April 17, 2014
by Brit Wagner

When Dana Barre made the decision to change careers, she had no idea she would discover her dream job and purpose.

What she did know was that her work in the insurance field was not fulfilling her desire for making connections with people.  She had a passion for helping others and needed to find a career that would allow her to do that.

Dana BarreWith one master’s degree in business from UW-Madison, Barre chose to pursue a second master’s degree from the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology, specializing in community counseling.  Barre earned this second master’s degree in 2003 and credits the program with providing her with the skills and tools she needs for working with people.

After overcoming her own painful family history, she set out to find a way to help others with similar experiences and help them improve their quality of life.  Having completed a practicum at Dane County Mental Health Center (now Journey Mental Health Center), where she worked with families and children in crisis, along with becoming a mother herself, Barre decided she wanted to focus her efforts on helping children.

In 2009, Barre put to use her business and counseling backgrounds and founded Heartland Farm Sanctuary, a local non-profit animal rescue that provides therapeutic animal-assisted programs for individuals with disabilities and children who are either at risk or have a history of trauma.  Heartland’s mission is “to provide care for farm animals in need, nurture people through the human-animal bond, and foster respect and kindness toward animals and each other.”

In short, Barre notes that Heartland is about making connections; kids with animals -- kids with staff.  She says, “those connections are what works the magic to help people heal.”   

One such connection that demonstrates how Heartland’s animal rescue stories are so central to their therapeutic work occurred between a young adult man and a calf named Toby.  The man, who initially couldn’t tolerate being on the farm, learned about Toby’s rescue story and began empathizing with the mistreated animals, even verbalizing how wrong it is to hurt animals or people.  Through his frequent visits to Heartland, he flourished and eventually began looking forward to his time spent with Toby.

Other success stories occur between groups of people and animals, such as a group of young men living in treatment foster care that visit Heartland weekly to do chores and build social skills. At the farm these men, some of whom are living with autism, post traumatic stress disorder and other major life challenges, practice the skills they are learning and in turn are given the opportunity to become the caregivers themselves by contributing to the wellbeing of the animals.  Their social workers report that these men are more verbal at the barn than at any other time during the week, which showcases how animals and caring for them brings out the best in everyone who visits Heartland.   

Not only does Heartland provide a valuable service for the people and families it serves, it also provides opportunities for community members to get involved. The staff has formed a connection with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.  This past fall, they had nearly 20 students participate in their “Barn Time Program,” in which students worked one-on-one with a person with disabilities to help take care of the animals in the barn.

In March, it was announced that Heartland Farm Sanctuary will be featured on a new television show anticipated to premiere this fall titled, “Animal House.”  Similar in concept to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” this TV show works with communities to build new or renovated facilities for local animal shelters in need, allowing those shelters to make a greater impact in their community and beyond.

Heartland Farm Sanctuary will receive a vastly expanded and renovated, people-friendly facility as a result of being featured on “Animal House.”  Due to lack of capacity, Heartland must turn away more than 10 animals for each animal it is able to rescue. The new facility is expected to have: more animal sheltering and caregiving space; heated and air-conditioned spaces dedicated to year-round programs for at-risk youth and individuals of all ages with special needs; an elevator allowing for wheelchair access; overnight accommodations for animal caregivers; a waterfowl pond; vegetable and flower gardens; and walking paths.  These expansions and renovations will allow Heartland to take in more animals and significantly increase its animal-assisted therapeutic and educational programs at the barn.

“There are no words to describe the joy we feel about having been chosen by ‘Animal House’ for this,” says Barre, Heartland Farm Sanctuary’s executive director. “It’s been a challenging few years, but we have a very committed staff and a passionate base of volunteers and supporters.”

The network that will air Animal House is expected to be announced within the next several months.

Both “Animal House” and Heartland Farm Sanctuary will be contacting local businesses for support and donated materials for this project.  Any organizations or individuals interested in playing a role in this project, including having their donated products and services promoted on the show, can email Barre at dana.barre@heartlandfarmsanctuary.org. Those who would like to get involved with Heartland can find volunteer information on its website: heartlandfarmsanctuary.org.

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