Leigh Anne Bianchi teaches life skills with Good Citizen Project
Several years ago, when Leigh Anne Bianchi was working as a community services counselor in South Bay, she noticed a trend among people using the clinic’s services.
“I was responsible for what we call the ‘life skills journey’, which was basically teaching people life skills. Often it wasn’t that a person didn’t know how to take care of themselves or their home, but rather that they lacked meaning and purpose in their life,” Bianchi said.
Hoping to fill that void for some of her patients, Bianchi began organizing group outings to community events, from carol singing to volunteering for the Worcester Animal Rescue League, and she found the results exceeded her expectations.
“It really made a difference in a person’s overall approach to life because they had something to be proud of, they worked hard at it, and they could show others their hard work,” he said. she declared.
Three years ago, when Bianchi decided to start her own business providing more individualized services, she turned to the model she had created in South Bay, bringing clients with mood disorders and autism on farms in central Massachusetts and teaching them farming skills to build confidence. She called her program the Good Citizenship Project.
Bianchi runs the project from the Family Farm Education Center in Oakham, which houses a number of sheep and chickens, but much of the work she does is done on a farm in Barre where her horse, Johnny, lives. She teaches clients to care for and interact with the horse in a respectful manner and uses these lessons to develop clients’ social skills.
“Often I compare it to their own experiences. I’ll say, ‘You don’t like it when someone walks behind you, do you? Neither does Johnny. We must have a calm body and a calm mind. Horses are afraid of everything, so they’re afraid of you. It helps to look at them from that angle,” Bianchi said. “How would you feel if a stranger came and started touching your neck and face? We must treat these animals with the same respect.
According to Bianchi, participants in the Good Citizenship Project range in age from 12 to 50. Although most of them are on the autism spectrum or diagnosed with mood disorders, such as anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder, she also serves clients with other conditions, including global retardation and schizophrenia. His approach is slightly different with each person.
“[One member of the program] has a lot of issues with muscle tone and reaches his right hand to his left and vice versa, being able to coordinate both sides of his body to pick up something with both hands,” Bianchi said. “When he’s picking up heavy things, it gives him that input and he can feel where his body ends and the rest of the world begins, and it really helps him later sleep better that night and be able to focus on smaller Tasks.”
Bianchi said she uses several therapeutic techniques with her clients, including dialectical behavior therapy, which aims to help patients deal with overwhelming emotions. She also draws on her background as a parent and teacher, as well as her experience growing up around animals.
“I pull from many different approaches and tailor each session to the person I’m spending time with,” Bianchi said. “What I do doesn’t exist anywhere. There is no billing code for what I do.
FFEC executive director Jen Keaney, who has worked with the Good Citizenship Project for several months, said the project provides a unique service.
“It’s very difficult for people to find social skills programs in the community. It’s twice as hard here in the middle of nowhere. I feel like we’re meeting that need the most right now,” Keaney said. “I see it having a very positive impact on social skills, sensory stimulation, job training, independence. There’s a lot to do here to build confidence and ability.
Keaney said FFEC works extensively with area residents who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, and given FFEC’s existing work, the Good Citizenship project was a perfect fit.
On September 25, the Good Citizenship Project and FFEC held a karaoke contest at Common Ground Ciderworks in North Brookfield to benefit both organizations. Profits were to be used to feed FFEC animals, build farm facilities and maintain the car Bianchi uses to transport customers.
Bianchi said she chose the name Good Citizenship Project to represent the role she hoped it would play in Oakham and surrounding towns.
“What does it mean to be a good citizen? A good citizen helps where needed without expecting anything in return. The whole concept of giving back and being contributing members of a community,” Bianchi said.
The Good Citizenship Project can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/GoodCitizenshipProject/.