BRADENTON, Fla. — Charlize Ucciferri came to South West Florida Therapy Animals seeking community-service credits for her Bright Futures scholarship.
The 16-year-old volunteer is receiving a whole lot more at the ranch located in Bradenton.
"It's made me a better person, a more positive person," says the Lakewood Ranch High School student.
Heather Perry, the owner of this peaceful kingdom, says that is exactly the point.
"We try to make it a Zen relaxation area," Perry smiles as she surveys the pigs, goats, dogs, cats, horses and chickens on the beautiful sprawling property.
The ranch opened about a year ago. The nonprofit was inspired by Perry's caring for her father as he battled cancer.
Her "animal whisperer" talents extended to bringing therapy dogs in to see her dad.
"I realized I have a gift," Perry says.
The former daytrader opened this loving, soothing ranch for other people in need: veterans with PTSD, families dealing with drug addiction, children with special needs and more.
The medical benefits of bonding with animals include lowering blood pressure and reducing anxiety.
Heather is ambitious and then some. She wants to expand the property into a field trip destination.
It's also perfect for weddings, she says.
On top of all that, she is growing hemp on the property as an alternative food source for the animals.
The pandemic slowed services at the ranch, but the animals here still need human connection and caring.
So enter Charlize and some 120 volunteers of all ages whose job is to love on the animals for a few hours a week. But Perry needs even more volunteers.
Community service credits are given. The critter cuddles are pretty cool, too.
If you are interested in volunteering, you can contact South West Florida Therapy Animals by calling 941-313-5557 or filling out this form.