Three Top Animal Sanctuaries Create New Scholarship Program to Help Young Animal Welfare Leaders Pursue Careers in Ag

As a step towards developing the next generation of workers who will care for rescued animals and advocate for their humane treatment, three Northern California animal sanctuaries — Jameson Humane in Napa County, Rancho Compasión in Marin County and Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary in Placer County — have collaborated to form a new youth scholarship program for high school students. Named Leaders for Ethics, Animals, and the Planet (LEAP), the new program kicked off in February 2022 and offers participants four months of hands-on farmed animal care and horse experience, humane education, and the opportunity to earn a $500 scholarship by volunteering at one of three sanctuaries.

Each week, students and their peers will meet at their local participating animal sanctuary to care for rescued animals, assist with infrastructure projects, and attend humane education courses, all culminating in a community-based project related to the rescued animals. LEAP empowers students to be compassionate catalysts for change by addressing three main points: the ethics of using animals for industry, connecting with and caring for rescued farmed animals, and what we can do to curb climate change.

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Cammy holds rescued lamb Ollie. Photo courtesy of Rancho Compasión

The LEAP program was born through a similar concept conceived at Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary in 2017 and inspired by a Charlotte’s Web-like tale of a high school student named Audori. After participating in a traditional agricultural, or ‘ag’, program, Audori decided that the kindest and most ethical thing she could do for her beloved pig, Sebastian, was to save him from slaughter and ensure he had the long, happy life he deserved.

Sebastian’s story turned into the catalyst that inspired other students to reach out, seeking not only sanctuary for the animals they had lovingly raised, but the chance to continue to care for and learn about farmed animals while being directly involved in changing the way society views them. With the need evident for an opportunity that would encompass leadership, responsibility, sustainability, and compassion, the first iteration of the program was born.

LEAP students will receive many of the same opportunities that other ag programs offer – collaboration with peers from around the region, participating in local events, learning from experts and mentors, receiving financial compensation for their work, and, spending time with the animals – but without the financial and emotional burden of raising and showing a slaughter-bound animal.

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“Many students have a strong desire to work alongside animals,” said Miyoko Schinner, founder of Rancho Compasión and a co-founder of LEAP. “Ag programs prepare young students for careers in the field of agriculture and provide access to hands-on animal experience, life and business skills, and even financial compensation. However, students who raise slaughter-bound animals are confronted with difficult and sometimes distressing experiences in order to complete these programs. These other ag programs shame students who do not wish to slaughter their animal, whereas LEAP teaches that there is always a compassionate option.”

Upon completion, students will be rewarded with financial compensation, letters of recommendation, and get connected with a vast network of nonprofits and mentors. Families will not be required to pay for feed, animal husbandry equipment, medical costs, and other financial burdens. The students are paid fairly and competitively for their work, opening up possibilities for a career path in animal rights and welfare.

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Monica Stevens, co-founder of Jameson Humane and LEAP said, “we (Jameson Humane) are excited to provide a different opportunity. It is high time. We regularly receive calls from students in other ag programs who have lovingly cared for pigs, cows, sheep, and goats, and have come to the realization that they will be going to auction, to slaughter, and want to do what they can to save them. Jameson knows there is a more compassionate path for students who would like to work with and do better by the animals.”

Kohana greets Snowball. Photo by Robert Porter

Blackberry Creek Farm Animal Sanctuary’s Danielle Hanosh added, “LEAP encourages students that empathy for others is a strength, not a weakness. With humanity at a major crossroads, there’s no better time for our youth to leap forward into a more compassionate and forward-thinking society.”

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A freelance writer in Marin who writes about family, kids and parenting, Glass is the mother to one son, one dog and a hamster named Miss Geri. When she’s not writing, trekking up steep hills in Marin or driving her kid to sports practice, she and her family spend time in their tiny cabin in Lake Tahoe. She avidly supports the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to Bay Area seniors and disabled adults. Glass is obsessed with baking the perfect loaf of banana bread, something she makes so often she no longer needs to look at a recipe card.