High school students with a passion for animals can now intern at Ballydidean Farm Sanctuary on South Whidbey as part of a new nation-wide humane educational program.
This is the first year the program known as LEAP – Leaders for Ethics, Animals, and the Planet – is being offered at nonprofit farm sanctuaries outside of the state of California, where it began two years ago.
Ballydidean Farm Sanctuary, located in Clinton, is looking for teens all across Whidbey and beyond to apply to be considered for the program, which runs from October to June and involves a monthly time commitment of a few hours spent at Ballydidean on the weekend. Kids will learn about hands-on animal care, wildlife and habitat conservation, food and agricultural systems, leadership development, human health supported by a plant-based diet and animal welfare, among many other topics.
Sarah and Ansel Santosa, the owners of Ballydidean, explained that LEAP aligns with the mission of their farm sanctuary, which is a safe space for animals of all different species to grow old together.
“This is something we’ve wanted to see on the island forever,” Ansel said of LEAP.
LEAP describes itself as a compassionate alternative to traditional agricultural programs such as 4-H. Kids raising animals for auction often struggle with that reality once it approaches; Sarah said Ballydidean has been approached by kids in 4-H begging them to take their animals.
“This is a way to still learn all those wonderful things, have those wonderful experiences but not have those sticking points be an issue,” she said. “What I also really, really love about it is that not all kids have the ability or the opportunity or the resources to have a farm animal at home.”
Sarah said LEAP also covers a number of “animal adjacent” topics that are interwoven, from food to conservation to environmental stewardship.
“We think about this in our work,” she said. “How can we take care of these animals but also take care of the land? How do we make sure that the right plants are here that rejuvenate the land and healthily feed our animals? How can we be resourceful in recycling, how can we reduce food waste on the island?”
The Santosas, who met as teens while attending a suburban high school in Minnesota, are excited to work with young people.
“All of our best volunteers have been teens,” Sarah said. “They’re smart, they’re intuitive, they have great ideas, they have energy. They have suggestions and see things fresh, and I love that.”
As interns at Ballydidean, kids will be able to focus on what appeals most to them, whether it’s physically helping with the farm chores, updating social media or engaging in outreach efforts to donors.
The Santosas plan to talk to kids about the practice of hoof trimming for animals. They already have ideas about enrichment activities that could be fun, such as burying food for chickens and pigs to find.
“We’re really excited,” Sarah said. “I can’t wait to teach kids or help them further develop skills that they already have in taking care of animals, in building things, in being strong, in coming up with ideas and projects and developing them from sketches to execution, and cooking.”
Currently, 120 animals reside at Ballydidean, which was founded in 2018. The Santosas have rescued several local animals, and recently received a commendation award from the Island County Sheriff’s Office for their work with them with multiple different animal abuse and neglect cases. Many of those included large numbers of pigs, some of which were found running loose. One rescued pig that made South Whidbey Record headlines was pregnant, and ended up giving birth to ten piglets.
At the end of the school year, students have the opportunity to apply for competitive scholarships of $500 or $1,000 from LEAP. Ansel said they are happy to help kids work on independent study projects if they are interested in applying for the scholarships.
“A lot of families do 4-H as a way to raise money for college,” he said. “And so the founders of LEAP are very aware of that, and want to provide ways for students that need that extra financial aspect to it, to have that available to them.”