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Volunteers paint for The Gentle Barn

Jaycees, Zonta help complete project for post-foster kids and abused animals

Posted: August 16, 2009 9:00 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Danise Davis of Zonta Club of SCV makes sure the welds of The Gentle Barn pasture fence rails are covered with paint as she volunteers on Saturday. Danise Davis of Zonta Club of SCV makes sure the welds of The Gentle Barn pasture fence rails are covered with paint as she volunteers on Saturday.
Danise Davis of Zonta Club of SCV makes sure the welds of The Gentle Barn pasture fence rails are covered with paint as she volunteers on Saturday.

Local volunteers laced up their tennis shoes and painted nearly half a mile of rusted railing surrounding The Gentle Barn's newest project to help at-risk young adults and abused animals.

"I was under the impression they'd get half the fencing done," said Darshan Sergi, development associate for The Gentle Barn, who looked upon the volunteers making "phenomenal" progress on the project. "I'm impressed. It's almost like they're professional painters."

Six members of the SCV Jaycees and 11 members of Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley arrived on the Agua Dulce site of The Gentle Barn at 8 a.m. Saturday prepared to work.

"Zonta came to us to partner with them because they know we like to do community service," said Jenny Nemitz, president of the Jaycees.

The Gentle Barn is host to abused animals and at-risk children, including those recovering from substance abuse, kids on probation, foster kids, and children and adults with mental, emotional, and physical challenges.

The nonprofit has two sites on Sierra Highway, one just north of Vasquez Canyon Road and a new one farther north in Agua Dulce.

At its original 15825 Sierra Highway site, The Gentle Barn is home to 120 animals ranging from dogs and calves to peacocks and pigs.

Every September to June, the organization hosts project with at-risk children.

Organizers say the animals help teach the kids self-esteem, confidence, kindness and life skills.

"They (the children) basically come in here very angry, troubled at school, unable to talk to a psychologist; they're going nowhere fast," said Ellie Laks, The Gentle Barn's founder and director. Laks runs the organization with Jay Weiner, chief financial officer.

But after years spent changing the lives of hundreds of children, Laks found there to be a stumbling point in how much of a difference the organization can make in those individuals' lives.

"What we're seeing is the foster kids are supported until they're 18, and then they're let go. And if they don't have family or friends, they just go straight into the street," Laks said.

Just a little extra extended assistance can make all the difference, she said.

"If these guys just got a tiny bit more help, they can turn into flourishing kids who benefit our society. But without our help, they're the ones plaguing our society," she said.

The nonprofit's newest 14-acre property, where volunteers painted Saturday, will be a second working site for the Barn but a new home for individuals 18 and older who are no longer eligible for foster care.

The Gentle Barn also plans to host more veal calves at the new site.

"Auction houses are calling us to save downed baby cows," Laks said. "Once we can save their lives, and they're brought back to health, then they can live the rest of their lives on our new property."

The baby cows and homeless 18-year-old kids mirror each other, Laks said.

"They're both orphans; both are pretty much unwanted and have no one," she said. "So we'll be able to bring in both of them and put them together so they can heal each other."

But with a new property that's more than double the size of the first site comes the challenge to find support to get the project up and running by year's end.

"When you're a nonprofit and you have to raise every penny coming in, having a group like Zonta and the Jaycees come out is invaluable," Laks said. "We are completely at the mercy of the community's generosity."

Jaycee member John Labick of Valencia scrubbed the railing Saturday to prepare it for a coat of paint.

"I liked the idea of helping animals and kids; it's the combination of both," said Labick, explaining why he volunteered. "I'm just getting done whatever needs to get done."

Jaycees is a leadership development organization dedicated to making a positive impact in its community.

Karen Maleck-Whiteley said Zonta is primarily dedicated to advancing the status of women, and its volunteer work with The Gentle Barn will benefit young girls.

"It's a cool program that they (at The Gentle Barn) have," she said. "Three or four hours is a lot of manpower that they don't have."

The Gentle Barn's Web site is The phone number is (661) 252-2440.


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