A local mom founds a nonprofit that saves animals and brings healing to others after her own near-death experience.
Danielle Judd is the first to tell you: She. Is. Exhausted. Not that you’d ever guess hearing about her days of juggling three kids ages 6, 7 and 18, 10s of volunteers and 60-plus farm animals in her front and backyard while still finding time for her husband and side projects. But, what’s a little tiredness when you’re saving lives and bringing healing to local families?
Judd’s contagious enthusiasm and energy come from her passion for selflessly helping others. The Trabuco Canyon resident is the founder of FarmHouse Rescue, a nonprofit that saves animals and brings healing to people, many of whom are dealing with disabilities, PTSD or life-threatening conditions. The 40-year-old came up with the idea following her own near-death experience. Pregnant with her third child, Judd found herself fighting bacterial meningitis, organ failure and other health complications.
“You start to reevaluate all the things that matter to you,” she says of her time at Mission Hospital six years ago when she made a promise to give back to the world in a positive way if she made it out alive.
Although she did recover, the medical ordeal left her with memory loss, some hearing loss and depression, among other things. In an effort to overcome the dark times, she followed her husband’s suggestion and returned to something that used to make her happy — being around a horse. Feeling like herself again, she says she realized the horse was rescuing her just as much as she was rescuing it. If it worked so well for her, she thought, how many other people could benefit in a similar way? Six months later, Judd officially opened her nonprofit.
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These days, FarmHouse Rescue is a sanctuary for more than 60 rescued farm animals, a safe place for volunteers who find being around the farm therapeutic, and an escape from the harsh reality of terminal illness for select local families who come as guests.
Isabel Moon’s 32-year-old autistic son, Creig, is a volunteer working with the animals. Prior to that, Moon said she’d struggled to find a right program for him and worried about his future.
“The farm and the Judds gave us a gift we did not dare dream of — a place where our son could belong, give back in a very real way doing work he absolutely loves,” she says.
The nonprofit has several programs: Skill Building, which empowers adults with various disabilities and gives them a chance to learn new skills; Smile Club, which includes live cams for remote connections with the animals and access to storytimes at the chicken coop; an animal pen pal program; Smile Box care packages for hospital patients; and Guest of the Farm, where families in the midst of challenging ordeals can take a break for a day to create precious memories with their terminally ill loved ones.
“To create that little bit of normalcy in such a chaotic time, it’s so precious,” Judd says.
The farm is not open to the general public, but it does offer kids’ summer camps to raise funds for the operation. Judd says she takes no salary out of the farm and supports it through fundraising and the sale of soaps they make as well as clothing and other merchandise.
“Everything that we do here has to have a purpose, and it has to have love and meaning behind it,” Judd says.
Running a farm and a nonprofit is not a lifestyle Judd ever imagined for herself, but these days she can’t picture doing anything else.
“I know that this is what I’m meant to be doing in life, and this is why I’m here,” she says.
By Magda Hernandez