Dragonfly Haven Therapeutic Farm: Support for Mental Health

Dragonfly Haven Therapeutic Farm: Support for Mental Health

By Angela McMullen

From a young age, Charlotte Paul of Mount Denson knew that she wanted to help others. Initially, she believed this could be achieved through nursing. Although a nursing career would enable her do this, she wanted to help people who faced specific challenges and barriers, especially persons living with mental illness. Time and circumstance provided her with the opportunity to succeed in doing just that.

Charlotte is a recent graduate of the Social Services program at NSCC Kingstec. As a student, she decided that she wanted to “make an impact on at least one person”. This education, combined with a rich life experience, provided her with the necessary tools to turn a dream into reality. A class project fueled an idea – an idea that would take on a much larger form.

The idea evolved into Dragonfly Haven Therapeutic Farm, a farm that offers an alternative approach to healing. “It is a place where children and their families can step out of the stressful world and enjoy the healing power of animals and nature,” says Charlotte. It strives to “improve life for individuals of diverse backgrounds… and for those who face challenges in everyday life”. As suggested by the name, the Farm is a haven for individuals who seek healing in a safe, non-judgemental environment. The rural location, in close proximity to the ocean, lends itself to a nature-based, therapeutic experience. In addition to interacting with the small animals, visitors can wander the grounds and find peace and comfort amid designated quiet spaces.

Charlotte’s greatest inspiration has been her father (now deceased), an individual who lived with issues caused by anxiety, depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and addiction. She feels that with the right supports, he “could have been a happier, healthier person”.  Later in life, her father sought healing through animals, turkeys being his favourite. “His turkeys meant the world to him… he spent hours with them in the coop. As long as he was around them, he was a more positive person”. Charlotte recalls that “spending time with animals lowered (his) stress levels… (and) reduced tension, anxiety, and anger”. Animal therapy provided comfort and support that was not derived from traditional modalities of support and recovery.

Published studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy has been beneficial for persons living with autism, developmental disabilities, schizophrenia, individuals recovering from illness, veterans living with PTSD, and persons receiving cancer treatments. There is a lot of research that shows animals have a calming effect, which improves emotional well-being. Animal-assisted therapy is widely recognized in the professional community.

An important motivator for Charlotte is a genuine desire to make a difference in the world. “I truly care deeply for people and want to have a positive impact”. The Farm welcomes everyone. Who would not enjoy hugging Dexter the cow, Joanee the Guinea Pig, or Lilly the Bunny? How about petting a miniature horse, or a micro pig? Paul hopes to reach anyone in the community who could benefit from animal therapy, especially for those “living with an exceptionality”. Her goal is to improve lives “in a meaningful way”, not only through the animals and nature, but through “my positive encouragement”.

Currently, Dragonfly Haven is in the primary stages of development. Recent activities have included fundraising initiatives, contests for children, marketing efforts, and programming for both children and adults. Future plans include a variety of workshops, farming education, and camps for children and youth who live with behavioral, social and academic challenges. These camps will operate year round. As well, the Farm seeks to be a venue for special occasions like birthday parties and weddings. Mindful experiences will include a barefoot play area and a wandering garden. Goat yoga and a souvenir shop are also future considerations for Dragonfly Haven. The Farm is located at 5 Aberdeen Beach Road, Mount Denson. For anyone interested in developing or expanding job skills or supporting mental health through volunteering, there are opportunities such as website design, animal care, creative gardening, painting, music, retail, and art. These contributions could potentially lead to a full time paid position.

For information on upcoming programs, volunteering, and hours of operation, visit dragonflyhaventherapeuticfarm@gmail.com, find them on Facebook, or call 902-352-2001. Watch for upcoming announcements on a grand opening event.

Photo is contributed, featuring Charlotte Paul, owner and operator of DHTF, with Joanee the Guinea Pig.