At Cunningham Children's Home, everybody knows the Chicken Lady. Yes, you read it right, the Chicken Lady. Since 2009, Naneen (Nani) Baker has lived in a home that backs up to Cunningham's property and she has chickens in her backyard ... lots of them. How many you ask?
"I have too many," Ms. Baker said with a chuckle. "That's what I always tell people but really I have just enough to sell some eggs to friends. I can get two dozen eggs in a day."
You see, Ms. Baker owns her own Public Relations business and does work from home. Since her office overlooks her chickens in her backyard, she would often greet our Cunningham youth and staff over the fence while they would visit the chickens. Over time, she developed meaningful friendships with our kids.
"I would hold up my chickens and they would pet them and I'd educate them about raising chickens," she said. "It was pretty fun working with the kids on that level and I just built relationships with some of the staff and kids. And I still see some of the students out in the community which is an awesome feeling."
So in 2016 when Nani decided to make a career change, it just so happened that Cunningham had an opening for a teacher's assistant at CIRCLE Academy Therapeutic School and the stars aligned. She interviewed, got the job, and is now a member of the Cunningham family.
"The kids would just be amazed with the chickens and seeing their faces light up, it just inspired me," Ms. Baker said. "I started to feel kind of a calling to work at Cunningham and now I have just fallen in love with this place. Meeting the kids and getting to know them, and understanding that they're good kids with some emotional and behavior challenges...it's just special."
Ms. Baker said that the kids still often visit the chickens and feed them Cheerios, raisins, and Craisins, their favorite snack. The staff at CIRCLE call it "Chicken Therapy" because our youth are learning about life and compassion towards others in a fun and meaningful way.
"The chickens are truly funny," she said. "They'll chase bugs and they'll jump up. So it's fun for the kids and nice because they know they're doing something good for the birds. They care about the chickens. I've even seen the kids work with each other and say things like, "Pet them here, do this, don't do that...'"
And you can bet the chicken have names.
"You raise them as littles and you name them," Ms. Baker explained. "We have Poofy-Boo, named by my daughter, Eagle, Dixie, and Baby.... and the kids name them too. It may not be my name for them, but it's their name. For one of the students, it's her favorite quiet place. She'll sit there and call the birds and they'll come running. It's neat to see the connection."
When Ms. Baker arrived for work on her first day, some things surprised her like the size of campus and the newer buildings, the array of services that we provide, and the number of staff and kids who knew of the Chicken Lady. What didn't surprise her though was that Cunningham still has the same loving and caring staff that provide a safe place for youth to heal, learn, and grow that she saw from her backyard for so many years.
"All that time before I worked here, seeing the bounce houses, seeing the summer activities, seeing the creativity with the kids, there's so much love and care put into everything here," she said. "It's quite phenomenal to be part of that."