Animals born at a Weyauwega zoo will be off to a good start thanks to the Wautoma Fresh Start program.
Last week, two crews of young men were at Animal Haven Zoo in rural Weyauwega to build housing for baby lions and bears.
“This whole crew has been just wonderful,” said Dawn Hofferber.
Dawn and Jim Hofferber are the owners of the zoo – a zoo that began 20 years ago.
“This is not just a two-car garage,” she said. “It has a heated floor. We’re putting in small individual places in the garage. We’re expecting baby bears and baby lions.”
Hofferber said they have been trying to get the building up for two years.
In the past, she has gone out to the babies after they were born, sometimes bringing them inside so she did not have to worry about them getting out or falling.
Their own heated cubicles right next to the house will make tending to them easier.
“I can’t say anything other than that they were a godsend,” she said.
It was about a month ago that Amanda Daniels visited the zoo with family. During her visit, she asked Hofferber if she was in need of any volunteers. Hofferber told Daniels that there are volunteers who help at the zoo. Some do so to meet community service requirements, while others are part of a church or service group. Daniels then told her about the Wautoma Fresh Start program and what they do.
Last week, two Fresh Start crews arrived at the zoo. One crew built the garage and the other cut wood to be used to heat the area for the baby animals.
Daniels is the youth development coordinator with CAP Services. She teaches in the CAP Services’ Waupaca and Wautoma offices.
She said Fresh Start began in Madison. It was started by a police officer who saw many criminals returning to the system because of a lack of skills and jobs.
His idea, she said, was to teach the young men skills.
It became a statewide program and has also branched into other states, including Ohio, Daniels said.
She works with youths who are about 16 to 24 years old.
“Almost all of our youth have some kind of criminal background or just were not successful in school,” she said. “They’re typically in the program nine months, working with me – the teacher – to get their high school equivalency diploma. If they are not with me in the classroom, otherwise, they are out building homes for low-income families or doing very amazing service projects like this.”
All of the participants in the program are AmeriCorps volunteers, which means that AmeriCorps pays their wages, regardless if they are building a house or doing a community service project, Daniels said.
“In addition, each guys gets between $2,000 and $3,000 for school – continuing education. Typically, they go through Fox Valley Technical College,” she said.
CAP Services has partnerships with Tri-County, Wild Rose and Wautoma school districts.
Daniels said most of the young men in the program were referred by school administrators. Referrals are also received from the court system.
They anticipated completing their project at Animal Haven Zoo by the week’s end.
The zoo remains open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., weather permitting. Call 920-867-3707 for more information.