Children’s Fairyland is in the storytelling and memory-making business. Most of our stories are classics from all over the world. But every once in a while we get told a story—and make a memory—that comes from real life rather than from the pages of a book.

I want to share one such story. It’s about a young lady who participates in our Junior Animal Caregiver program for at-risk kids. It came in a letter we received last week from a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) mentor who works with “Sara”—we’ve changed her name to protect her privacy—and it was the best early holiday present we could imagine receiving.

“For a child in foster care,” the letter began, “whose life is based on constant uncertainty, Children’s Fairyland’s Outreach program has been a godsend.”

The letter continued:

“Sara has lived in nine homes in the last four years, in nine different cities, and attended nine different schools. When you move from place to place like that, life can be discouraging at best. Where once there was hope there is now depression and apathy. Childhood, meant to be a time to experience life and develop interests and confidence, became a sequence of disruption, insecurity and loss.

“That is, until Children’s Fairyland’s Outreach Program.

“When Sara entered Fairyland’s six-week Outreach program she was welcomed warmly. She found herself among caring, dedicated adults—and gentle, loving animals. Gradually, a child who had struggled daily in school learned to feed animals, groom a pony and donkey, clip the sheep’s hooves, and help lead a behind-the-scenes tour for Fairyland’s guests. For one of the first times since she’s been in the court’s care she experienced success and felt empowered, smart, knowledgeable, and accepted.

“And … the most wonderful outcome of all … she absolutely LOVES it!“

We weren’t anticipating this holiday card. Not only did it surprise us, but it filled our hearts with love and hope—and even a special appreciation of the power of animals to heal.

Of course, people played a huge role in Sara’s turnaround, too. In fact, we know that the greatest indicator of a child’s success in life is having had an adult who cared about them.

As you experience the joys of the holiday season, consider how you might be that adult, or support that child. I have two suggestions for you.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program is a national organization that provides one-on-one court advocacy for abused, neglected and abandoned children like Sara who are dependents of juvenile court. By simply listening, encouraging, guiding and speaking up for a child, CASA volunteers help these vulnerable children and teens reach their full potential. You can learn more about how to contribute or volunteer at

Then there’s our own Children’s Fairyland’s Junior Animal Caretaker program, which educates kids about animal care and provides a structured opportunity to experience and build empathy and overall self-esteem. Children participating in our program are referred by schools and organizations (like CASA) serving youth affected by trauma. In 2013, 19 children participated in the program. We’d love to reach out to even more, but of course that requires funding. You can learn more about how to support the program at

There are many “Saras” in Alameda County waiting for someone to step in and make a difference. In this season when many of us are enjoying the warmth of family celebrations, I hope you’ll remember the children in our community who don’t have families to celebrate with. You can help Sara and other young people find happy endings to their stories.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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