Homeless Health Initiative (HHI) and Youth Services Inc. (YSI) combined their energies to better support local teens, including a unique farm day trip. 

During one of our Sunday sessions with YSI, volunteer Colin Pustilnik arranged for a trip to a local farm just outside of Philadelphia. It was an opportunity to provide city kids with a change of scenery and some fresh air. The teens were inquisitive, asking the farmer about the types of crops he grows and the animals he raises.

As we walked back to where the horses were grazing, most of the teens followed the farmer’s lead and began feeding the horses fistfuls of long grass. But one young man, Kevin, walked away from the group. Through a window, he noticed the only horse in the stable. I walked over to Kevin, and he asked me with pain in his voice, “Why is he in here by himself?” I told him I didn’t know. He began searching for suitable grass to feed the horse. While others walked around exploring other areas of the farm and feeding multiple horses, Kevin would not leave that horse’s side.

I realized that something about the horse being locked up was triggering for Kevin. So, we talked to the farmer and Pustilnik, who explained the horse was injured and needed to recuperate in the stable. They were keeping the horse safe, not punishing or isolating him. Kevin was relieved, even though he hated the idea of confining a living being.

Before we left the farm, the teens shared how grateful they were for this experience and how they felt their stress melt away just by getting a change of scenery. I left the farm reminded of the pain and resilience possessed by teens experiencing homelessness, as well as the healing power of nature, connection and relationships.

— Melissa Johnson, MSW