Middletown Boy Scout Builds Goat Playground on Special Needs Farm

MIDDLETOWN, NJ — Middletown Boy Scout Nick Madden is trying to become an Eagle Scout this spring and he’s doing a unique service project at Oasis Farm, which is a working farm for young adults with autism.

In the past, the Middletown Boy Scouts have often carried out service projects at Oasis; local teenagers installed almost all of the fences and flowerbeds in the farm’s vegetable garden.

For those unfamiliar with Oasis, it’s a 26-acre working farm on Sleepy Hollow Road. It was founded by Middletown resident Mai Cleary and her husband in 2011. When Cleary’s eldest son was 4, like so many children, he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Mai said she was inspired to create Oasis after reading about Bittersweet Farms in Ohio, the nation’s first working farm for adults with autism.

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“Autism doesn’t just go away. There is so much focus today on supporting people children with autism, but people spend a lot more time as adults,” Cleary told Patch three years ago, when she gave us a private tour of the farm. “But at 21, they are gradually leaving the public school system… It’s really hard for them to be employed and people don’t understand what it’s like to be autistic.”

She said her son graduated from an inclusion program at the College of New Jersey and that she and her husband rented him an apartment in Red Bank; he tried to find work. But it was a struggle.

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“We always thought farm life would be good for him,” she continued. “And for the others. The idea of ​​Oasis is simple: autistic children grow up.”

For his service project, Nick is building a goat play area at Oasis Farm.

Yes, you read that right: a playground for goats. The young adults who live at Oasis Farm raise goats and milk them. They sell goat’s milk and cheese at a roadside farm stand in the spring and summer. (PS Their goat milk is amazing, unpasteurized and super fresh.)

“One of the needs of Oasis Farms is to have a goat play area where the goats can climb and play,” Nick said. “They are playful and friendly animals. The playground will allow the goats and young adults to interact. As an avid skateboarder and skier, I appreciate the need for outdoor activities, so I decided to build this playground for them.”

Oasis also offered yoga with goats.

Nick asks the people of Middletown to donate money or supplies to help him build the goat playground.

“I hope you can donate to my project – any amount helps,” he wrote. “All funds raised will go directly towards purchasing materials (wood, nails, cement). All work will be done by volunteers – if you have a particular skill and have time to spare, we would also be happy to you have. “

Here is the Nick’s Eagle Scout Project GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ple…

Learn more about Oasis in Middletown:

“Oasis Farms is a beautiful, serene farm supporting young adults with autism,” Nick wrote. “The peaceful setting and its proximity to nature provide an ideal learning and working environment for these people. They are taught the ins and outs of farm life, including nutrition, animal care and preservation. of the environment. Daily activities include cooking, maintaining the property and farming.”

Tour Oasis, a working farm for autistic adults in Middletown (May 2019)

Oasis is open to adults 18 to 27 years old. According to Cleary, young people ideally stay at Oasis for four to five years, and are then better equipped to work in the world or live in collective housing.

“They learn to live away from home; they learn social skills,” she said. “We have a range of people here, from non-verbal adults to high-functioning autistic adults. But even for the high-functioning ones, these people are still working hard to get through the day. It’s stressful for them.”

At Oasis, residents live on the farm; they each have their own room in the Revolutionary War era farmhouse. Every day they have a long list of agricultural tasks to do. A counselor also spends the night there. Some residents also come for the day program only.

Imagine having double vision all the time, said Cleary, who is trained as a nurse. This is what autism is like. It’s hard for them to focus on what someone is saying and make eye contact, she said.

“It’s also hard for them to make friends. And that’s the hardest part for parents, I found. You just imagine this really lonely kid and this really lonely adult,” she said. declared.

But once they arrive at Oasis, residents generally thrive. “Children did better in three months in our program than in 12 years of school,” she said. She’s seen young adults bond instantly.

Even for those without verbal skills, strong friendships have been formed on the farm.

“We have residents who are inseparable,” she said. “For them, it’s like coming home to people who speak their own language.”

It’s a farmer’s life: The young adults wake up with the roosters at dawn, have breakfast together and then get to work feeding the animals. The rest of the day is devoted to agricultural work, whether it’s planting seeds, working in the vegetable garden/solar greenhouse or milking the goats. They also have exercise breaks and yoga classes. Support staff, therapists and volunteers come in during the day and help the residents. Oasis grows almost everything they eat on the property and they have a farm stand on Sleepy Hollow Road, where they sell what they make: soap, garden fresh lavender, fresh goat’s milk, eggs, milk lotion goat cheese and natural insect repellent.

Twice a month they hold a special tea party, where nearby residents of Middletown, Lincroft and Colts Neck pay to be served traditional tea, complete with scones and clotted cream. The residents of Oasis await them; It’s called “Social Graces” tea to teach residents social skills, Cleary says. In the summer they also serve paid breakfast on the porch of the farmhouse to neighbors.

On weekends, residents go home to their families and return on Sunday evening, ready to start the week anew.

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Harold B. McConnell