When Thava Mahadevan, MS, Director of Operations at the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, noticed that a significant amount of clients with mental illness were suffering from poor health, he sought to solve the problem using simple solutions. The Farm at Penny Lane became the avenue through which he, along with his clients, would begin to grow healthy and affordable food. Not only does the farm serve as place for agricultural growth, but also a central location where patients can live more active and social lives. Full of volunteers, staff and clients, the Farm at Penny Lane offers a welcoming atmosphere prime for building community.
But Thava has never been one to settle. In 2014, Thava sought to bring more innovative and positive forms of therapy to the farm. In partnering with Paws4People in Wilmington, North Carolina, Thava started UNC PAWS. The Puppy Development Center began soon after. Through this program, Sunny Westerman and her team of volunteers and clients train puppies for 10 weeks (6 - 16 weeks old). They have the task of socializing the puppies, allowing them to experience all sorts of people, places, and things which they may come into contact with throughout their life. According to Sunny, this is the best job in the world. From the Puppy Development Center at Penny Lane, the puppies will then be taken to a Women’s Prison in West Virginia where they will be more formally trained for their life as a Service Dog. The puppies live with the prisoners in their cells during their training, until they are finally matched with a Veteran who suffers from PTSD. After being trained specifically for their human, these puppies have an amazing ability to serve and improve the life of the Veteran.
The Farm at Penny Lane continues to grow, and while the farm does not currently have a residential facility, a new project for building “Tiny Homes” for affordable housing on the property is on the horizon. If you love these puppies, you can find them around town at Weaver Street Market, the fire and police stations or on the farm. You can be part of helping them socialize and amp up your oxytocin levels at the same time. But in the meantime, check out this video and see if you’re not smiling at the end!