"What is R.OO.T.S. and who is it for?"
R.O.O.T.S., which stands for Resilient-Optimistic-Open-Minded-Thriving-Serene, is a support option for young people experiencing challenges related to substance use and mental health. We are an outpatient program for youth and transitional age adults (ages 12-24) that uses a Green Care modality as both an early intervention program for people starting to experience difficulty related to these issues, as well a treatment program for people who may have already been diagnosed with a substance use and/or mental health disorder.
"I've already tried therapy, do you really expect me to believe a goat or pony will work any better?"
Well, we wouldn't have to type so much and our job would be a lot easier if you did! But for those of you who have spent time around these creatures, there is a good chance you already know the magic they possess. For those who haven't or those that may be skeptical, we would invite you to take a minute and poke around on the old interwebs and see the volumes of research that have been published on the effectiveness of Care Farming. If that sounds exhausting, we will spare you the effort. What you will find is gobs of research, primarily in Northern and Western Europe where healthcare is often funded by the government so it has room to try new things, showing that people who take part in Care Farming experience improved outcomes for their conditions, develop feelings of self-esteem and confidence, feel more hopeful toward their current and future lives, and remain engaged in care for much longer than traditional interventions. With that said, we don't suggest that our model replace everything else. If someone offers you a silver bullet when it comes to mental health and substance use, they are probably selling you a truckload of manure (we just compost ours and re-use it so we don't need to sell it). People are complex and so are their needs (although maybe not as complex as trying to figure out where the heck to turn for help, or trying to navigate insurance coverage and program wait lists!). We actually encourage our participants to continue existing care and will happily refer to one of our partner providers who specialize in psychiatric medicine and traditional therapy if needed.
With that being said, we have yet to see someone have a bad day while hanging out and grooming horses and ponies, playing tag or fetch with pigs (yes they do that), or just fooling around with those goofy goats. The animals won't allow you to have a bad day, and they are calling the shots. (Actually, the people are in charge but please don't tell the donkeys that. You don't want to argue with a donkey, you won't win, trust us).
"So did you just go out and buy a bunch of animals and open a farm?"
Ha! We wish! (not really). No, nearly all of our animals have come to us as rescues. There are countless creatures out there who have experienced the trauma of neglect, abuse, loss, abandonment, and other tragic circumstances. Others have had owners whose lives have changed in ways that made it so their beloved pasture pets needed a new forever home. A few of our barn dwellers have come to us after retiring from careers in entertainment or service jobs, and others are born right here on our farm. Occasionally we are able to temporarily foster animals for people in need or local animal control or rescue organizaions.
No matter where they've come from, each animal brings their own life experience and lessons to share with our program participants. Quite often we find that our animals and our people have more in common than we thought. With that comes companionship and love. So does community and accountability towards one another without the stigma and social complications of our everyday interactions with other humans (we know, it's starting to make a little more sense, isn't it?).
"Ok, so what's the catch, this is probably super expensive or only for people with insurance isn't it?"
Nope. There is NO COST involved for our program participants other than their own transportation to and from the program (if this is a barrier, please speak to our staff and see if we know of resources that may be able to assist) We are incredibly fortunate and proud to be the first Care Farming program ever funded by The Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health. By partnering with DPH's Bureau of Substance Addiction Services - Office of Youth and Young Adult Services, we can bring this opportunity to anyone eligible for the program, regardless of their income level. This effort falls under an exciting and groundbreaking pilot program by the OYYAS known as Green Care. Within this initiative, three programs in the state have been selected to offer different types of Green Care interventions as part of a multi-year study that is being guided and monitored by a team of academic researchers all over the U.S. in the fields of substance use, mental health, and human-animal interaction. Other programs include a Wilderness Adventure model as well as a Therapeutic Horsemanship approach. The goal of the larger initiative is to collect outcomes data and best practices so that our success can be documented and replicated in other communities, and offer young people everywhere something that works and is fun at the same time. All three Green Care programs work in partnership and meet regularly with our advisors at OYYAS to share knowledge and learn which will help all of us to work together and change the landscape of services for young people struggling in life.
While our farm and animal care expenses far exceed our contractual revenue we turn to grantmakers and donors to make up shortfalls when they exist. If you'd like to join an amazing and generous community of supporters, many of whom help us $5 or $10 at a time, you can donate here.
"If this is a brand new program, do you even know what you are doing yet?"
Fair question, but this is not our first rodeo. R.O.O.T.S program participants will not be an experiment or be treated like mini-pigs (sorry we don't have any guinea pigs so we had to get creative there). We actually started out this journey in 2018 when our parent agency, GAAMHA, launched their first therapeutic farming program which was called The Carl E. Dahl House at Cass Farm in Athol, MA. That farm was a sober residential site for adult men using the Care Farming modality. Now THAT was an experiment! Early on, there was a lot to learn but one thing was obvious almost immediately... the farm environment, the animals, the daily activities that our residents took part in, and the surrounding forest were changing the lives of people that many others had long given up on. People who had seemingly tried everything out there for treatment options without success were discovering and sustaining their recovery like never before. The Green Care piece of the program was filling in gaps that had been going unaddressed in traditional clinical services. Our residents shared that they had found a sense of purpose again, that the animals had reminded them how to care, love, how to hold themselves accountable, be dependable, and that living and working on a farm in all the conditions that Mother Nature throws at us helped to prove that they were far more resilient than they had ever given themselves credit for.
In 2021, that program moved to our new location in Gardner, MA and we opened The Carl E. Dahl House at Evergreen Grove which has grown to become a Co-Occurring Enhanced Recovery Home licensed by Mass DPH specializing in long term residential care for people with both substance use and mental health disorders. This program also broke new ground in the treatment industry by offering this unique approach and contracting exclusively with MassHealth/Medicaid insurers, enabling our most vulnerable populations to access the type of care that had been the exclusive domain of Private Pay programs and people with access to resources or high-end commercial insurance plans.
With Dahl House acting as the foundational program at Evergreen Grove we now take the lessons learned over our years as practitioners of Care Farming and apply them to a slightly younger crowd and on an outpatient basis. The best part is that the magic of Care Farming can now be used earlier in a person's life and hopefully help them avoid ever progressing to a point where a long-term residential program is ever needed. Addiction and mental health disorders are often described as pediatric or at least developmental diseases. Being able to combat them early will make all of the difference!
"Alright, you've got my attention, how do people get referred to R.O.O.T.S. ?"
We're glad you asked! (because we have no idea who you are yet lol). Referrals to R.O.O.T.S. can come from almost anyone who is interested including Parents/Caregivers, Teachers, Guidance Counselors, Behavioral Health Providers, Primary Care Providers, School Resource Officers, Courts/Probation Departments, Coaches, Clergy, and more. Young people who are interested for themselves are welcome to contact us for more information but please note that we will need consent from a parent or guardian to provide services for anyone under 18. There is a link to a simple referral form at the top of our page which you can also access here. Once the referral is received you will be contacted by one of our clinicians who will follow up and start the enrollment process. We love having parents and guardians involved in our service plans for program participants but also realize that busy lives are the norm, so we offer the ability to access many of the required consent forms and other documents via our Electronic Health Records online portal when needed.