Some might say that Jill Prickett has a one-TRAK mind.
Prickett is the founder and executive director of Therapeutic Ranch for Animals and Kids (TRAK), a local nonprofit that works to strengthen kids and the community through animal interaction.
"My two passions are animals and kids, and I am a strong believer in doing for the community," she said.
She combined those concepts and came up with the nonprofit. "TRAK is basically having kids and animals provide service for the community," she said.
Prickett, a former special education teacher, recognized the value that pupils got out of performing community service.
"My students were often on the receiving end of services, but I found it was important for them to feel they have value and could help others and give back," she said.
TRAK provides a venue for that. Established in 2007, it has about 100 animals including 22 full-sized and miniature horses and donkeys. There's a cow named Snoopy, along with goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens and rabbits.
TRAK is open to all children, including those with physical and emotional disabilities as well as social or self-esteem issues. Kids have opportunities to learn, develop relationships and work with the animals.
TRAK volunteers feed and care for the animals, clean their pens and help with barn and grounds maintenance.
They also help take the animals to community events and to nursing homes, schools, hospitals and other facilities.
Last fall TRAK started a pilot program with TMC for Children, providing monthly animal visits for pediatric patients at Tucson Medical Center.
"The hospital is doing a study on the many benefits to the patients and families we visit with. There are kids who are ready to be discharged but must first get out of bed and walk, and it is interesting that when they hear there are rabbits and chickens in the courtyard, it enables these patients to get motivated to get out of bed and do what they need to do to continue the healing process," Prickett said.
Volunteer Colleen Magee-Uhlik, a sophomore at University High School, has seen those benefits.
"Studies show animals have such a healing effect on humans, and being able to see it in action is a wonderful thing. When we do room visits to the pediatric intensive care unit, the kids just light up."
Magee-Uhlik, who moved to Tucson from Wisconsin, began volunteering for TRAK after seeing a booth at the Tucson Celtic Festival more than two years ago. She's grateful to be involved.
"I love being able to help kids and be around animals at the same time. I don't drive yet and I can't get a job yet, and for a person my age, volunteering at TRAK is a great way to give back to the community," she said.
The aspiring actress also believes in building good habits at a young age.
"Humans take from the planet and we should give back. … Kids have to learn that is a good thing to do and start doing it," she said.
Prickett sums up TRAK's philosophy with the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
"Treat people well around us and we will all take care of each other," she said, adding, "If kids enjoy volunteering when they are young, there is a better likelihood they will continue doing it for the rest of their lives. I want to tap into that."
How you can help
• What: First Annual Making Tracks with TRAK 5K/1 Mile Fun Run Fundraiser
• When: Jan. 12 - Registration begins at 8 a.m. The 5K begins at 9 a.m. and the 1 Mile Run begins at 9:30 a.m.
• Where: TRAK, 3230 N. Craycroft Road
• Cost: Adults (ages 16 and older), $20 before Jan. 12 or $25 the day of the race; youth (ages 6 to 15), $15 before Jan. 12 or $20 the day of the race. There's also a family deal, which is $60 for four plus $5 per additional person before Jan. 12 or $70 for four plus $5 per additional person the day of the race. It's free for those age 5 and younger.
• The details: Entry fee includes a goodie bag with a T-shirt, food and access to events at TRAK on the day of the race. All proceeds go directly to care and maintenance of TRAK animals and for community-service events. Call 299-9808 for more information.
• Register: Go to traktucson.org for more information or to download a registration form. Registration forms can be emailed to TRAKRanch@gmail.com or postmarked by Jan. 8 for early registration prices to TRAK at 3230 N. Craycroft Road, Tucson, AZ 85712. Cash and checks only; no credit cards are accepted.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com