PROSPECT — The sound of hammers hitting nails rang out across the farm off of Spring Road May 20 as volunteers came together to aid a local woman on her mission to help children.
Volunteers from the Home Depot in south Southington and the Ion Bank Foundation were hard at work building a chicken coop and a barn for Kelly’s Kids Inc., a Prospect-based nonprofit organization.
“This is a barn-raising, like the old 1800s when everybody comes together and helps their neighbors,” said Kelly Cronin, founder of Kelly’s Kids.
Kelly Kids uses farm animals in a therapeutic setting to teach children about empathy, the “circle of life,” caring for others, and to accept differences and appreciate those differences, according to the organization’s website.
The barn raising was held last week to get Kelly’s Kids ready for its first summer day camp, which is scheduled to start June 11.
“[The children] are just going to go back to being a kid. Nobody knows how to be a kid anymore. Technology is going to stay at the door and when they come out here for a couple hours a day they are just going to learn how to be a kid and have fun,” Cronin said.
Although this will be the first year for Kelly’s Kids, the idea started nearly three decades ago.
Cronin said when her eldest son, who is now 31, was in kindergarten she hosted a field trip at the farm.
“The kids didn’t know the difference between a goat and a sheep,” Cronin recalled.
Cronin decided then to begin a program that would ultimately evolve into the Farm on Wheels program, a traveling petting zoo. The petting zoo, which makes stops at schools, summer camps and nursing homes, has been traveling around for more than 30 years.
In 2014, Cronin lost her job as the executive director of Waterbury Youth Services.
“I said ‘I am too old to go back to real work and have a boss,’ so I developed Kelly’s Kids, which is a nonprofit,” Cronin said.
Cronin hopes Kelly’s Kids will also reach children who are having difficulty learning in school.
“Eventually, I want to do nontraditional learning and teach kids who are having issues in schools, like to learn math, use rulers and hammers. To learn science through the greenhouse. We are going to do aquaponics and hydroponics. There is a beautiful stream that goes through the back yard,” Cronin said.
Helping with this aspect of the nonprofit will be Mike Crane, who runs the entrepreneurial program for Kelly’s Kids. He teaches commercial apartment repair, such as fixing a broken toilet or changing an outlet, to older children.
“Why should we just turn around and figure this kid is going nowhere, sitting on the block and getting in trouble, when I can put a lawnmower in his hand and he can go out and make money. Teach him how to make money,” Crane said. “You can’t let these kids go by the wayside.”
The organization’s mission resonated with businesses which donated goods and services to help Cronin’s dream become a reality.
Naugatuck-based Ion Bank provided volunteers to help build the barn. Home Depot donated $2,250 worth of material for the barn and volunteers, and Black and Decker donated $14,000 worth of tools towards Crane’s program, Cronin said.
As volunteers constructed the chicken coop and raised the walls on the barn, Cronin said she envisions the summer camp as a place children could come to really explore nature, run around, and just be a child.
“Our motto is come clean and well rested and go home dirty and tired,” Cronin said.
For more information, visit www.kellyskids.org.