Zachariah's Acres makes enjoying outdoors fun, natural for special needs children

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by Matt Doyle

TOWN OF OCONOMOWOC -- It gives children with special needs a chance to experience the outdoors.

"This is something we can all do together," Katie Najarian said.

Something that isn't always easy.

"It's so much work. I'm always not sure about the environment if it's handicap accessible. We know when we come here we can count on it."

But this place is quiet and serene...the exact place to learn to love nature.

"My son's happy because he's free," she said.

Najarian has three sons.  One of them has cerebal palsy.  She's found an escape at Zachariah's Acres.

"For me when I'm on my own with my kids, it's something I wouldn't think of doing with them."

Fishing is one thing.

"My son Alex was fishing and he talked about how he caught the biggest fish and all that stuff. It was a big deal for him to be able to do some of these things."

Zachariah's Acres in Oconomowoc gives children with special needs a chance to experience nature without any barriers.

"It's difficult to get them out and about," Zachariah's Acres President Terry Bartowitz said.  "It's difficult to go to a place where they can ambulate if they can walk, or take their chair. Some kids might have social challenges where they have a meltdown and those environments aren't accomodative to that either. "

Bartowitz and Bob Schowalter spearhead the operation.  It's only been around two years - but they've had more than 1700 people come to a variety of events.

"They know they're going to be interacting with other families that have some similar opportunities, similar challenges," Schowalter said.

Taking a special needs child fishing presents a challenge.  Not at Zachariahs Acres.  The pier was recently donated.

"Mom and dad might enjoy a cup of coffee or a cup of tea," Bartowitz said.  "Get a break while their child is being tended to with an ambassador or volunteer."

Families can plant trees, take a hayride, fish, pick flowers, the list goes on.  The children light up in a way that most can't describe.

"That is a beautiful thing. Fulfillment is attached to serving these families," Bartowitz said. 

The families find freedom too.

"We would never build a kite together, or plant some flowers together," Najarian said. "One of our experiences was digging a hole and planting a tree.  All my kids just put their hands in it and got dirty. It was wonderful."

Schowalter and his wife donated the land to start the non-profit.  He can't hold back his happiness...

"Hahahaha...can you tell? This is more fun than catching fish myself. What more can you say?"

You can find more information at http://www.zachariahsacres.org/home/

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