Peace Bringer Spotlight
Celebrating the families of (L-R)
Tracey Klein, Jennifer Keenan, Patti Koski,
co-creators of Barn Buddies
and the Alpacas for Peace!
This Peace Bringer Spotlight honors Barn Buddies, a very special Baltimore, Maryland area organization created by three very amazing women and their families. The women being celebrated this month — Jennifer Keenan, Tracey Klein, and Patti Koski — are all teachers. As educators in home, school, or barnyard settings, they share lessons on both academics and life with their own children, and with children who have various disabilities that result in visual, physical, or communication challenges. As volunteers, they have supported Mattie’s Foundation, bringing their Alpacas for Peace to the 2011 Peace Celebration, and contributing ornaments made by thier students, peers, and family members to Mattie’s 2012 Peace Tree.
As citizens of our world, they represent all that Mattie believed we should be as individuals who choose to ”want peace as an attitude” and who “live peace through words and actions,” and most of all — who “share peace by reaching beyond one’s own family and community to gently touch the lives of other people who are in need of hope, and peace.” Now, as we begin a new year and celebrate educators, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Barn Buddies and the founding families of this program as our Peace Bringer Spotlight honoree for our January into February post.
Learn more about the Peace Bringers who run Barn Buddies
by enjoying the interview responses and photos below.
Learn more about this organization by clicking here:
From Jennifer Keenan
Special Educator/AT Specialist
Co-Creator, Barn Buddies
I am. Those are the two words I am trying to live by, simply “I am.” Living in the moment and being at “Peace.” In the meantime I am also a wife, mom, Special Educator, Assistive Technology Specialist and a partner in my dream job — doing Animal Assisted Therapy for Children with Special Needs for our business called “Barn Buddies.”
I have worked for 20 years with children with Visual Impairments and Multiple Special Needs as a Special Educator/Assistive Technology Specialist. My job allows me to really be in the moment, quiet all the background noise, take a good look at the student I am working with, and to focus on each student’s abilities. When you focus on what someone can do, and what someone likes to do, finding the materials and tools to help them do it becomes a joyful adventure. I am so fortunate to have been part of many teams that have found the “tool” that has helped a student communicate, engage, participate, and enjoy the world around them. When I am working with a team of students, parents, therapists and educators to focus on a common goal to enhance the life of a student I am at great peace. I am reminded as Mattie’s states to put our differences aside and focus on the greater good, and that in itself will bring you peace.
My four children Olivia (16), Alana (14), Ethan (12), and Noah (12) are all members of Mattie’s Peace Club. I have been very blessed that my husband, Jay, and my children have all actively participated and supported my life long dream to open Barn Buddies. In the midst of school, work, sports, and activities, each one of them has helped raise and care for our family pets/therapy animals, worked as a teen buddy to a child with special needs, created materials, and volunteered hundreds of hours to make a difference in the life of another. When I am in the middle of a lesson, event, or therapy session, and I take a moment to stop — look around at my family, friends, students, partners, and animal buddies all working together — that is my personal definition of “Peace.”
As a Special Educator, I have been very fortunate to work with Connections Beyond Sight and Sound (the Maryland Deaf-blind Project) and to be part of developing the Demonstration Classroom at the Maryland School for the Blind. During the time I worked on this project, I met Jeni Stepanek, Mattie’s mom, who also works with the project.
In 2011, Jeni invited the alpacas from our Barn Buddies program to participate in the first Peace Celebration being hosted by Mattie’s Foundation. We came as a large team of two families (the Keenans and the Kleins), to bring the alpacas and a variety of peace activities relating to the alpacas in an event we called “Alpacas for Peace.” Together with the Klein family, we spent the day at Mattie’s Park and Peace Garden meeting people of all abilities from all over the world, and also Mattie’s family and closest friends. After all the organizing, transporting, planning and set-up, the skies opened up and it began to rain and rain. Everyone at the event listened to Mattie’s words to “Remember to play after every storm!” and as a united group, we continued the 2011 Peace Celebration and made life-long memories.
I am fortunate to work with Patti Koski, Tracey Klein and every single member of their families to provide animal assisted therapy for children with special needs. Together with the children and the animals we are joyfully and peacefully witnessing the animal-human bond and remembering to be respectful to all living things and remembering to share ‘Peace.”
From Tracey Klein
Co-Creator, Barn Buddies
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be
called the children of God.
We are Team Klein! I am Tracey Klein. My husband, John, and I have been married for 18 years and have 5 children: Emily (15), Nathan (13), Jyun Yuan (12), Joshua (11) and Michael (8). We call ourselves a team, because we are stronger together than separate individuals. The head of our team is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For us, the true demonstration of peace is a reflection of the character of God. What greater aspirations could we have than to demonstrate God’s love and share it with others?
Nearly 10 years ago we moved our family to a small farm in Maryland, Simple Faith Farm. Our dream was to raise our children in a manner that allowed them to experience some of God’s greatest creations in their natural environment. We are a home school family who love to spend time together in work and play! This farm life has provided us some amazing experiences!
As we added to our barnyard friends, we were always mindful of one very specific goal — to share our animals with children and adults with special needs. From alpacas to chickens, to ponies and rabbits and even sheep and a few others – we have enjoyed this journey of learning together and sharing with others. Having worked as an Occupational Therapist for 20 years with children with Visual Impairments and Multiple Special Needs, I have raised my family to know my special needs students as their peers. The establishment of Barn Buddies with the Keenan and Koski families, was truly a dream come true for all of us! It is such a blessing to work with these families and share our love of animals and children together!
Perhaps one of our greatest memories as a family was our Alpacas for Peace journey to the first Peace Celebration hosted by the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. In the middle of windy, rainy, noisy, and at times chaotic situations – we saw the peaceful connection that happens between humans and animals that is unparalleled in any other way. Children who were shy, or who have physical limitations and communication difficulties, reached out and touched…..and connected with the alpacas.
Our daughter, Jyun Yuan, joined our family just a few years ago at the age of 9. Because she has maintained her native language, she was given the opportunity to read one of Mattie’s greatest poems – For Our World — in Chinese at the Peace Celebration. What a moving moment to hear that American-written poem being read in a language from the other side of the world. Peace knows no boundaries!
In the beginning, God created a perfect and peaceful world. Imagine – the lion and lamb were companions! Man brought sin into this world and so we lack the peace that once existed. Ultimate peace is still freely available through the gift of Jesus. It is our family’s goal to daily seek God’s will for our lives……..and thus reflect the peace He offers! This is the message from Team Klein (www.SimpleFaithFarm.com).
From Patti Koski
Speech & Language Pathologist
Co-Creator, Barn Buddies
I am a Wife and a Mom. My husband, Matt, and I agree that our most important job is raising our four children: Luke (18), Noah (16), Ben (13), and Grace (11). God has blessed our family with a rhythm that works for us. Bongos come to mind! The volume and tempo are constantly changing, influencing our moods and our decisions. In the midst of one of our louder and more up-beat days … there is an underlying feeling of peacefulness.
I am a Speech-Language Pathologist. I love to work with children, especially those diagnosed with Autism. There is nothing calm or predictable about working with children on the Autism Spectrum. I am constantly switching gears during my therapy sessions … trying to engage, motivate, and communicate with them. In the midst of what many people would consider “overwhelming” … I am surprisingly at peace.
I am an Author. I enjoy developing new speech-language programs to share with other educators and therapists. LinguiSystems, Inc. has published four of my programs:*Autism/PDD: Picture Stories and Language Activities , *Autism/PDD: Early Intervention ,*Autism/PDD: Social Skills, and *Autism/PDD: Basic Questions. Most therapists know them as the “Matt and Molly Stories.” In the midst of my editor’s lingering deadlines … I can’t help but feel peaceful.
I am a Camp Director. Just four years ago, our family moved to a small farm. It had been a dream of mine to start a summer camp for children with Autism. We learned how to care for goats, chickens, and horses … oh my! CampKoski became a certified youth camp in 2008! As I watch the campers and their teen-buddies kayaking on the pond, riding on a horse, enjoying a hayride, or taking a trail walk … I realize that I am surrounded by peace.
I am in Cahoots! Across the past year, I have been blessed to find a common bond with Jen Keenan and Tracey Klein. These ladies also find “peace” in the midst of unusual circumstances. Jen and Tracey each have large families, work with children with special needs, and own a variety of different animals. Bringing our experiences and animals together, we created a program called, Barn Buddies. In just one year, our animal-assisted program has brought peace to so many children with special needs and their families. We are blessed to have found each other, and to be given the opportunity to share a special kind of peace with others.
Thank you, Barn Buddies –
co-creators Jennifer Keenan,
Tracey Klein, Patti Koski,
and the Alpacas for Peace,
for being Peace Bringers.
Click on photos and collages to enlarge.