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Matthew Ritchie

A Safe Place to Grow - Matthew Ritchie, with help from Mom


I was 15 years old when I first felt the comfort and safety of WindReach Farm. I started work experience with my class from Port Perry High School, and right away I knew my attachment to this great place would grow. Right away, I knew I had a chance to learn about life from the most honest source - animals. 


I spent the next five years working away once a week. My classmates and I learned the importance of teamwork. We all had special gifts that helped us overcome our impairments. We helped each other help the animals. We combined our strength to push the hay wagon. We reminded each other about how much food to give the cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, donkeys, and alpacas. We relied on each other. We learned that the animals depended on us too. It really did become a safe place to grow. 


I began to understand about mutual appreciation - I have nice cow friends because I give them food and they give me kisses. I began to learn about the need to take care of other parents’ children when the parents cannot do it themselves. My mom said this is called foster care - I have known Lily the sheep since she was a baby, and her mom could not feed all her babies at once. My teacher and class nursed Lily until she was healthy so she could return to her own sheep family. 


I had jobs to do that I could do. I felt useful, successful, capable, and able. I was encouraged, not discouraged. It was exciting. There were always new events and activities. I learned about farming machinery. Wow! I got up close and personal with tractors, and attachments, and utility vehicles such as Gators. The power to inspire, I say. I learned about helping neighbours when Frank and Roger the gots arrived for wintering at WindReach. They spend summers at a camp in Nestleton. They had to learn and adjust too, and we at WindReach were patient and tolerant. We knew they would soon feel safe too, just like the other goats that visit for a while. Sometimes, the mom goats come with their kids, and then the moms leave and the kids get to stay. Hooray!


I learned about good animal health. I learned about animal sickness. I learned about animal care, so they don’t get sick. I learned about happy new life. I learned about sad death. I learned about hello, and I learned about goodbye. Jitterbug (a.k.a. Angela) the Angora goat taught me this. I learned about the power of predictability, and about having faith that some things don’t change for a long time. The old faithfuls - Adele and Buttons - taught me this. These goats are so familiar to me - of course we cannot forget about Adele and Buttons. They are always there. 


One time I had a seizure in Buttercup the cow’s stall. She did not freak out. She gave me the biggest cow lick ever, and my hair has not been the same since! She sure made me feel safe and loved. When I graduated from high school in June 2007, I knew what I had to do. I had to transition to a different routine. I knew WindReach Farm would help me do this. I became a volunteer. Once again, once a week I was in my safe growing place. 


I watched the new calves grow from dependence to independence. Daisy and Betsy showed me the way. Most importantly, I extended my circle of friends. Volunteering at WindReach Farm is like what I imagine it would be to go to grandpa’s farm - there are a lot of good people who are nice and kind. Eating lunch together, and sharing our stories, and laughing, and having fun - these are good memories because they were good times.


Thank you WindReach for helping me grow. I will be back!

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