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Michelle Wheeler and Heather Tolson carry out part of a portable riding pen at the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill in Bedford as part of a volunteer project Monday. (KATHY REMILLARD PHOTO)

Volunteers help Bedford's Joppa Hill farm tackle projects

BEDFORD — While Columbus Day holiday was a day off for many people, some spent the day doing volunteer work, mucking horse stalls and tackling other projects at The Educational Farm at Joppa Hill.

The employees at Work Opportunities Unlimited, which specializes in finding jobs for those who experience barriers to employment, chose to do volunteer work at the farm to mark the company's 30th anniversary, said Director Alex Lange.

&#';We're very community-based,&#'; Lange said. &#';We help individuals with special needs find jobs that match their skills, but we try to benefit the community also.&#';

Work Opportunities Unlimited works with people referred by other agencies, and partners with the Manchester, Hooksett and Londonderry school districts to assist students with vocational training, said Brianna Smith, a team leader for the school program.

&#';We are a vocational program,&#'; she said. &#';They start with volunteering and then move into a job they enjoy.&#';

Smith said the company assists with transitioning students from a school setting to the world of work.

With some clients already volunteering their time at EFJH, Lange understood the need for constant help at the farm, and made arrangements with the farm's executive director, Annette Handy, for the group to come and lend a hand.

&#';The manpower is extremely important,&#'; Handy said as the volunteers hauled sections of metal fencing that would form a pen. &#';We can get so much done so much faster — this isn't a one-person job,&#'; she said.

Handy, who is the only paid staff member at the farm, said it is run entirely by volunteers, who clean the barn and tend to the animals each day, including Christmas.

&#';Farming doesn't end,&#'; Handy said. &#';It doesn't have a day off, it doesn't have a holiday.&#';

According to its website, the 35-acre farm is the only one of its kind left in Bedford. Its mission is to create public awareness of open space, sustainable agriculture and the environment by providing education through the operation of a working farm.

Summer educational camps provide a portion of the funding necessary for the farm's day-to-day operation, but Handy said other fundraisers along the way provide a financial boost as well.

Currently, the farm is embarking on perhaps its largest fundraising endeavor yet, as it seeks to raise about $120,000 for a new educational building.

Handy said the building will allow for more classes at one time, as well as classes during the winter months and on school vacations.

&#';Our goal is to have a camp every time there is a school break,&#'; she said.

Handy said an after-school program is a possibility down the road.


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