E-I-E-I-O; All smiles at the annual Corey’s Day on the Farm event for special needs children | Kitsap Week

Seven-year-old Rayana Neary is transformed into a cowgirl at Corey’s Day on the Farm on Monday. - Erin Jennings
Seven-year-old Rayana Neary is transformed into a cowgirl at Corey’s Day on the Farm on Monday.
— image credit: Erin Jennings

At some events, success is based on revenue. At Corey’s Day on the Farm, success is measured in smiles.

“When we see the kids with a happy face, that’s our reward,” organizer Coleta Corey said.

As in years past, smiles overflowed at the two-day event held Monday and Tuesday at the Kitsap Fairgrounds.

For more than 40 years, Coleta and her husband Nick have organized a farm day for special needs students and their families. It’s a day for children to ride horses, try their hand at roping and lassoing (not to worry; the targeted animal was made from plastic and hay) and to pet farm animals. It’s also a day for kids with special needs to have a time just for them.

The idea for the event occurred after the Coreys brought a litter of puppies for show and tell at their son’s special needs class. Coleta remembers how thrilled the children were to pet the puppies.

On the way home, the Coreys discussed how wonderful it would be if the students could come to their farm and see the horses, cows and other animals.

“Sure enough, they came,” Coleta said. “The first year 26 children arrived.”

It’s grown from 26 children in 1968 to an estimated 1,000 people this year. The growth in attendance required a change in venue. Corey’s Day on the Farm has been held at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds since 1979.

Terri Marshall, who teaches at Poulsbo Elementary School, has brought students to Corey’s Day on the Farm for four years.

“It’s a happy village,” she said. “The kids are smiling. The volunteers are smiling. You get such a warm feeling.”

Marshall remembers one year when the weather did not cooperate and the event was held in the pouring rain.

“The volunteers were slopping around in the mud and gunk, yet they were still smiling,” she said.

After so many years, the Coreys have fine-tuned the event to run as well as one of the antique tractors that pull wagon rides.

“Our family is the one who puts the mechanics in it and make the decisions,” Coleta said. The Coreys don’t want to bog down the volunteers with too many logistical meetings. Instead, they want the volunteers to save their enthusiasm for the event itself.

“I’m amazed at how many volunteers come to help,” Coleta said. “Everyone has a special story that happens.”

Like Deputy Sheriff Ken Mahler and his horse Diablo. The duo has volunteered at the event for seven years.  Diablo is a 10-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse and he has been trained to work with special needs children.

Coleta told a story of how one year, a boy in a reclined wheelchair approached Diablo. The boy was too low to the ground and wasn’t able to reach high enough to stroke the horse’s mane. Instead, Diablo knelt down so the boy could pet him. The following year, as the boy approached, Diablo knelt again.

This year as 4-year-old Lucas Grady sat on Diablo, his mother commented that his smile was the first she had seen from him all day.

Smile. There’s that word again.

Volunteer Mike Stricklin was all smiles as he helped children on and off the tractor ride. The 30 year old gave out high fives and a thumbs up as the children exited. Stricklin’s role as safety observer was to ensure that kids remained seated during the ride.

And while this was Stricklin’s first time as a volunteer, it wasn’t his first time at the event. He was 9 when he experienced Corey’s Day on the Farm for the first time as a student.

Frank Stricklin, Mike’s father, said the role of safety observer was the perfect volunteer job for Mike.

“He’s a stickler for the rules,” his dad said.

Inside the exhibition hall, a line formed at the photo stand. Bales of hay were stacked for kids to sit on and have their photograph taken against a farm scene backdrop.

Smile, said the photographer.

That wasn’t a problem on this day.

The photos were displayed across many large banquet-style tables.   As a gift, students received their photo in a commemorative frame. Students also received free T-shirts, souvenir handkerchiefs, lunch, snow cones and popcorn. In fact, the entire event was free of charge.

Coleta said a mother once told her taht as an experience, Corey’s Day on the Farm surpassed Christmas for her child.

Volunteers in an assembly line put together framed pictures. They smile and chat as their fingers quickly do the task at hand. They are reminiscent of Santa’s elves.

A man steering the horse-drawn carriage belted out the song, “She’ll be coming around the mountain.” His cheerful voice carried across the fair- grounds much like jolly old Saint Nick.

It’s easy to see how this day ranked high in the mind of a child. The festivity and happiness lent to a holiday-like feel.

Rebecca Erickson teaches at Pine Crest Elementary and has brought students to Corey’s Day on the Farm for 27 years.

“Parents are always flabbergasted that everything is free,” she said.

Various groups raise money for the event throughout the year. A recent golf tournament raised $6,000. The Thunderbird Pro Rodeo annually raises money in June. Money is also donated by Dance for a Wish, through local Rotary clubs and private donors.

Four-and -a -half- year- old Mikaylah Brant said her favorite part of the day was riding a horse named Bay. She got to ride him two times, and she held up two fingers for extra emphasis.

Her bright blue eyes shone as she recalled the ride.

“Yee-haw,” she said.

Followed, of course, by a wide smile.


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