Local farm helps mentally ill find new skills

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There's just something about life on the farm.

"Something about it just kept me coming back," said Laveenya Ford, "I just couldn't stop."

Ford, 28 of Brooklyn, has found a new peace from her work at High Point Farm in Montague, NJ.

Just three years ago, she was bouncing in and out of hospital emergency rooms as she suffered from suicidal thoughts.

Today, however, that's changed and it's largely because of her newfound bond with alpacas.

"I used to talk to the animals. Well I still do," she said, "They don't talk back, but having an animal depend on me has helped me open up more and become a leader."

High Point Farm is owned by Fountain House, the NYC-based organization dedicated to helping the mentally ill find new skills. 

Each year, hundreds of the nonprofit's members spend weeks at a High Point Farm, tending to its many animals. 

By the end of their stays, members say they've grown in ways they could never imagine.

"I think that the biggest problem people with mental illness is social isolation," said Fountain House President Kenn Dudek, "The more you can create communities like Fountain House that help people go to work or school and get their life together then the less people will have any difficulties."

Across the U.S., more than 40 million American adults suffer from a mental illness and our society continues to struggle with an accepted form of treatment. 

As a result, members at Fountain House feel there is a misconception when it comes to the mentally ill.

"Every violent person doesn't have a mental illness," said Ford, "It saddens me to know that social media and even our family members stereotype us; the same way people coming to the farm stereotype the animals. But I'm grateful to Fountain House that it takes the clinic out of it and focuses on the therapeutic part of it."

All donations to Fountain House can be made by going to FountainHouse.org.