The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

IC mental health services work to open an animal-based therapy youth crisis center

The center’s targeted start date is March 1.
Emily Nyberg
Healing Prairie Farm is seen in Iowa City on Friday, Feb. 3, 2024. Healing Prairie Farm is a youth crisis stabilization center equipped with farm animals, and c24-hour crisis resource staff members.

Equipped with a llama, two horses, four goats, and more animals, a new youth crisis center will begin accepting residents on March 1 to give youth a safe space in Iowa City.

“They’ll come in through those doors and immediately be greeted with a warm home,” Julia Winter, CommUnity Crisis Services Director of Development, said. “We aren’t just an institution, it’s a home that is going to feel safe.”

The center, named Healing Prairie Farms, is located on the 5000 block of Highway 6 and comes from a partnership between local mental health organizations United Action for Youth and CommUnity Crisis Services.

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According to CommUnity’s Chief Executive Officer Sarah Nelson, the East Central Mental Health Region provided $1.2 million to help them purchase the property. CommUnity bought the property in August 2023 for an undisclosed amount.

The center received funding and support through the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, who approved $1 million in October 2023 to help renovate the property.

Nelson wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that she sees the crisis center as a unique opportunity to serve youth in the community.

“Both the service and the environment we are providing it in are unlike anything youth have had access to,” Nelson wrote. “We believe this space will be a truly healing experience that provides pathways to continued services in the community.”

The property sits on 20 acres of land which includes two houses, a barn, stables, and a chicken coup. Organizers held an open house of the property on Jan. 27 with over 400 people attending, Winter said.

A total of 12 beds will be available for youth to stay on the property. Staff will work in shifts to provide 24/7 support with UAY providing staffing during the day and CommUnity at night, Winter said.

The property has two spaces to house youth. In one house, there are four beds in an apartment-style design meaning there is a living room and kitchen along with a bedroom. This space is designated for homeless and trafficked youth. These children can stay up to 21 days, Winter said.

In the other house, there are eight beds for youth in crisis who can stay for up to 10 days, Winter said. However, they can stay longer depending on the circumstances.

This house overlooks a small lake where the two horses and llama graze.

While on the farm, children will be exposed to three types of programming Emma Huntzinger, communications director for CommUnity, said. These three programs are individual counseling, group therapy, and animal-based therapy.

The property is currently under renovation to meet the necessary codes and standards, such as having a sprinkler system and larger stairs. Winter said the original house on the property is around 100 years old, so it needed these types of updates.

Huntzinger said she sees the center as a calming place where youth can explore what interests them.

“I think just being in a space with animals is a really calming environment, and we want to encourage youth to do what interests them,” Huntzinger said.

As the facility prepares to open, the history of the property is remembered by staff. Kinderfarm Preschool — a nature-based early learning center — taught preschool-age children for nearly 50 years until closing in 2022.

Winter said many of the farm animals, including the llama and horses, were donated by the previous owners of the property and were exposed to children while Kinderfarm Preschool operated.

“[The animals] had experience working with children, and that’s been one of the things that’s been really important to us as we’re looking to bring other animals onto the property,” Winter said.

Winter said she sees the farm being a place that youth can see as a home and is glad to continue that positive space Kinderfarm cultivated for youth.

“It’s for Iowa City and it’s really cool we get to carry on that legacy,” Winter said.

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About the Contributors
Jack Moore, News Editor
Jack Moore is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is from Cedar Rapids Iowa. Along with working at The Daily Iowan, Jack works for the University of Iowa's UI-REACH program as a Resident Assistant. UI-REACH is a program for students with learning, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities intended to provide support to these students throughout their college experience. Additionally, Jack is involved in Iowa City's live music scene as he plays bass for local Iowa City band "Two Canes."
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.