One Naperville couple serves the adult special needs community with the help of some feathery friends right from their backyard.
Touch My Heart Farm
Wendy and Rick Montalbano founded Touch My Heart in 2010. The non-profit provided outings and other opportunities. When those social events went away due to the pandemic, that’s when they knew they could transform their backyard.
“Wendy was talking one day, early on in the pandemic and said ‘you know, I’ve always wanted some backyard chickens and maybe now is the time,’” said Rick. “And six hours later she’s like ‘do you know that in Europe they have been using chickens for therapy to the special needs community, people with disabilities for over 20 years? And so long story short, here we are today.”
The Touch My Heart Farm has six therapy chickens. Organizations and group homes, as well as families are welcome.
“One of the things I love most is challenging them to live outside their comfort zone and that’s why I call it Awesome Life Academy is that I don’t want them to just have an ordinary life, I want them to have an awesome life,” said Brandon Quaintance, founder and president of Awesome Life Academy.
“My favorite part of being on the farm is petting the chickens,” said Tom Karman, who is a part of Awesome Life Academy.
Adult assisted therapy with chickens is an unusual choice, but it’s one that works.
“Chickens are highly intelligent, they can recognize faces, they have strong communication skills. They communicate to us and each other,” said Wendy. “They also show signs of empathy. So they can be very calming to hold or if they know you’re upset or they know you’re happy they can actually mimic that emotion.”
One reason the couple started Touch My Heart is because they saw a lack of opportunities for adults with special needs.
Susan Rink has a 20-year-old son who enjoys being on the farm.
“To have an opportunity to come to a place that’s unique and different, that is what makes all of our lives worthwhile,” said Rink.
Urban gardening is also part of the program. This allows their adults to learn a new skill, while providing a sensory activity.
The Touch My Heart Farm is training four more chickens to send to group homes.
“I tell a lot of people you’ve never really lived until you do something for someone who will never be able to repay you,” said Rick. “And it’s just a whole different perspective giving your time, your talents, your treasure. That’s what makes everything come together here.”
And after some time with the therapy animals, a great way to end a day at the farm is with a campfire.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
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