Celebrity guest and volunteer Alec Baldwin, local residents and special needs advocates gathered at a San Marino home Saturday night to raise about $100,000 for Danny’s Farm, a local petting farm that employs and helps children and adults with special needs.
After reading a January article in the L.A. Times about Danny’s Farm’s operational difficulties, Baldwin got in touch with founders Cathy Gott and her husband and former Dodgers pitcher Jim Gott to offer his help.
“I think sometimes the little places like Cathy’s, those are real cornerstones of that community and when that’s taken away it's not a good thing—it’s a terrible thing,” said Baldwin, who mentioned his brother Daniel has a son who is autistic and attends a special needs school in the San Fernando Valley. “I read about this and it sounded so simple and … I thought, ‘How much money does it take?’”
Danny’s Farm, named after the Gotts’ autistic 18-year-old son Danny, was originally located in Altadena, but but closed in January due to a zoning code violation that prohibited the number of animals present on the property.
Danny’s Farm moved to a space at the Almansor Center, a special needs school in South Pasadena that is considerably smaller and can only accommodate half a dozen smaller animals like bunnies and cats, but Gott said she is grateful for the space. Danny’s Farm also cannot be open to the public at the South Pasadena location but teaches about 40 special needs children who are enrolled in its after-school program and a full day program during the summer.
The $100,000 fundraising goal for Saturday night was reached, due to a crowd of about 350 people who paid between $25 and $250 per ticket, a silent auction, a live auction Baldwin helped lead and Baldwin’s donation of $25,000.
“My heart is full on so many levels,” said Gott Monday. “Just first and foremost seeing the adults with disabilities who work for Danny’s Farm dance and speak at the event and help put the event together—that’s the heart of our program is fostering and nurturing children with disabilities well into their adult years and providing jobs for these adults like my son Danny. It has been the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”
Gott said the funds raised will help Danny’s Farm open a larger facility at Cal Poly Pomona as part of the university’s veterinary program.
“Cal Poly has wanted to open a petting farm and hasn’t had staff to do it and we have the staff but no petting farm,” said Gott. “To carry this forward to Cal Poly and be a part of a collegiate atmosphere and integrate into students such an open philosophy of teaching and agriculture and … be a living example and work side by side in an inclusive environment is so exciting.”
The first step at the Cal Poly facility will be re-opening and re-establishing hours of operation so special needs schools, programs and organizations in the area that were being served by Danny’s farm have a place to come, even one day a week. Gott anticipates opening Danny’s Farm in some capacity at Cal Poly in the summer.
About 300 guests attended Saturday’s Danny’s Farm fundraiser, which was held at the San Marino home of Eli and Lainnie Capouya, friends of the Gotts. A farm atmosphere complete with a BBQ, hay bales, cowboy hats and real goats, rabbits and a pony set the scene for Saturday evening.
“You see all these people come here because they are a part of something and are all linked by this thing,” said Baldwin, who compared the unity of the autism community to that of his mother’s breast cancer facility in Syracuse.
The Capouyas, whose children Emily and Ben attend Huntington Middle School, opened their home last year for a Danny’s Farm fundraiser of about 150 people that raised $25,000.
“When [Alec Baldwin] offered his help that just really invigorated the whole committee and stepped everything up a notch so we are very delighted that he is here,” said Lainnie Capouya Saturday night. “We don’t have a child with special needs but it seems like every fifth person we know has a child with special needs so it’s important to us to help out.”
The Specialty Autism Program at Danny’s Farm teaches children from age five to 17 skills like making friends, respecting others, problem solving, building self-confidence and more through activities and interaction with animals.
Three adults with disabilities work full-time at the facility—Danny Gott will be the fourth—as well as part-time employees. Villa Esperanza Services’ vocational adult program provides job coaches that work alongside those employees.
“We have to be forward-thinking and inclusive in our community because these are not people you are going to put on a little yellow bus and separate and segregate like a generation ago—this is a different time,” Gott told Patch. “This tsunami of children is aging out of the system and they need jobs and that is my passion—to provide jobs and meaningful employment for this population. I just can’t explain how beautiful this work is so I hope to inspire others to do the same.”
Danny’s Farm employees and event volunteers spoke at different times Saturday night about the role Danny’s Farm has played in their lives.
“It’s not about the family you were born with; it’s about the family who knows and loves you,” Danny’s Farm employee Reynard Franklin said to the crowd Saturday night. “I love Danny’s Farm. I just thank Danny’s Farm for what they’ve done for me. I might be bipolar but they saw me for who I was.”
Gott said she doesn’t want to stop serving the local community so Danny’s Farm will probably also maintain its after-school program at the Almansor Center and possibly take Cal Poly field trips with that program on special occasions or bring some of the animals back and forth between locations.
Gott said Baldwin is working this summer but wants to do something with Danny’s Farm in October.
“Watching a community just love us and embrace us and support us is beyond anything I can express and having Alec Baldwin there made it so very special,” said Gott. “It was a beautiful experience; a beautiful night.”