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Family Day on the Farm provides sensory experiences for special needs children

Jayla Godfrey gently stroked the soft coat of Ratchet, a friendly golden retriever, with her feet while inside the indoor arena of Hidden Brook Stables in Woodbine.

During Family Day on the Farm, Ratchet was one of many animals on hand who helped provide a safe sensory experience for children with special needs.

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The event partnered Hidden Brook Stables with Parent Connections and Connections Beyond Sight and Sound, two programs which provide support for families with special needs children.

"We've been associated with Parent Connections since Jayla was two," Jayla's mother, Willitia Godfrey, of Baltimore, said. "She has a lot of sensory issues so this is a good opportunity for her to touch different animals."

Jayla, 7, was pleased to see her teacher Sara Kemplar volunteering at the event's petting zoo.

"I don't think kids get to be around animals like this a lot," said Kemplar, who is a teacher at the Delrey School in Baltimore.

Donna Riccobono, project director of Connections Beyond Sight and Sound, said the event was a great opportunity for families to meet each other. Family Day on the Farm also featured a moon bounce and a fire truck demonstration by the Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department. It was catered by Big Belly Deli in Sykesville.

"We're providing a good up-close and positive experience for children who can't just walk through a zoo and see the animals," Riccobono said. "We have families from all over the state…I think families with special needs children can never have enough fun. This is a great way to join together in a community atmosphere and socialize."

Elizabeth Spence, of Havre de Grace, brought her daughter Gloria, 2, to the farm. Gloria rode a horse around the indoor arena with the assistance of Murat Senelt, co-owner of Hidden Brook Stables.

"This is a good learning experience for Gloria," Spence said.

Rob Hyman, of Damascus, watched as his son James, 9, got to know a few turtles and a rabbit in the petting zoo.

"James has Asperger syndrome and this is a good opportunity for him to be outdoors and spending time with animals," said Hyman. "This is a really nice facility and I'm so glad they provided the opportunity today."

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