BY MATT TOBIN
PROSPECT — For Kelly Cronin, the hardest part of losing nearly 60 farm animals in a Feb. 3 barn fire was having to tell six teenagers in foster care who had worked with them about their deaths.
It was the Monday after the Friday night blaze — the cause of which was ruled undetermined by fire officials — when Cronin sat the kids down to tell them what happened.
“They all started crying,” Cronin recalled, noting the teens normally had bottled up their emotions due to their challenging life situations. “It was heartbreaking but also the most wonderful thing to see. It was the perfect time to explain to them that’s empathy — that you do have feelings inside you and it’s OK to show that. These feelings are healthy. You need to have them.”
In the four months since the fire, Cronin has been rebuilding and acquiring new animals for Kelly’s Kids, her nonprofit that provides mental health services using farm animals as therapy. She replaced the shed destroyed in the fire and has acquired about 20 animals, including a mini cow, lambs, goats, pigs, rabbits and ducks, many of which were donated.
Cronin does not plan to have as many animals as before the fire and has had to turn down some of the donations, she said. She has helped several individuals find rescues and caretakers for those animals, she noted.
A GoFundMe page raised about $120,000 in the wake of the fire, Cronin said. So far, the nonprofit has used money for the shed and some of the animals. Other donations have come from Ion Bank, Home Depot and Kemco, Cronin said.
She is grateful for the support, she said.
“The outpouring of people was insane,” Cronin said. “People I didn’t even know. But when you put animals and kids together, it pulls at people’s heartstrings.”
Many of her clients are in foster care or in the state Department of Children and Families system. She recently gained credentials to work with the state Department of Developmental Services, working with older kids and adults with developmental disabilities, she said.
At the day camp, the kids will be a big part of rebuilding, Cronin said. She also added a play group Friday mornings for 2- to 5-year-olds.
“People are loving it,” she said. “We do a different animal every week.”
Cronin said the last few months have been hard and she’s experienced many different emotions, but she tries to find the best in it and go on. She and her family plan to hold a barn raising in the fall, she said.
“Sometimes life throws you some curveballs,” she said, “and you just have to work around it and see if you come out on top.”