Nonprofit uses animals to reach children

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Kelly Cronin of Prospect, the former director of Waterbury Youth Services, is launching a new nonprofit, Kelly's Kids, that will use her farm animals to reach troubled children. Here she checks on her mule, Moses, at her home in Prospect. -RA ARCHIVE
Kelly Cronin of Prospect, the former director of Waterbury Youth Services, is launching a new nonprofit, Kelly’s Kids, that will use her farm animals to reach troubled children. Here she checks on her mule, Moses, at her home in Prospect. -RA ARCHIVE

PROSPECT — The former director of Waterbury Youth Services has launched her own nonprofit organization, hoping to use her farm animals as a tool to help troubled children.

Kelly Cronin of Prospect said she hopes Kelly’s Kids will honor the memory of her mother, Patricia Molycyk, who died last week of cancer.

Cronin left Waterbury Youth Services in July to care for Molycyk.

“My mother had a very hard life, but she never gave up, or gave in,” Cronin said. “She instilled that drive in me. Stepping down to take care of my mother was right, but I’m not done helping kids. No way.”

Cronin discovered the therapeutic value of animals about 25 years ago, when her idea for a unique field day at her son’s grade school led to the creation of a mobile take-the-farm-to-you side business.

Farm on Wheels has about 100 engagements a year, from school events to birthday parties to visits to local convalescent homes, Cronin said. Animals draw even the most isolated people out, she said.

On a recent trip to a nursing home, one of the directors told her the Farm on Wheels visit was the only event that can draw some of the old men out of their rooms, some as many as an hour early.

But it was a 9-year-old boy’s reaction to an abandoned baby goat that convinced Cronin that Kelly’s Kids could really work. The boy, who was living in a local safe home, appeared unreachable, at first.

Cronin asked the boy to help her care for a baby goat abandoned by its mother because it was born out of season. The boy snorted and refused. But Cronin pushed the goat into his arms anyway.

When the kid started bleating wildly, the boy began to soothe it, as if on instinct, Cronin said. At that, the goat nuzzled the boy in the neck, and then the boy, buoyed by his success, began comforting in earnest.

“I told him, the goat’s mother, it wanted to love its baby but it could not do it right now, but that together we could take care of it, make the baby OK,” Cronin said. “He told me, ‘I know exactly how it feels.’ ”

She would not only use the animals to reach troubled children, but also as rewards for positive behavior. At youth services, children often agreed to behavior contracts, with good results being rewarded.

Cronin said she could do the same thing with her animals, offering participants a regular visit with a paired-up animal upon completion of contract goals. She believes it would be a powerful incentive.

She plans to use not just her 25 years of experience at the helm of Waterbury Youth Services to make Kelly’s Kids work, but to also enlist her daughter, Brady, who has a master’s degree in counseling.

“I’ve seen it happen time and time again,” Cronin said. “It’s time for me to make it official. There are kids out there that need this. And I am just the person to do it.”