Wednesday, April 16, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Michelle Wenell creates opportunities at Opportunity Acres

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OPPORTUNITY ACRES CEO, Michelle Wenell stands at the ranch on South Shingle Road Jan. 21. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

Michelle Wenell put away her business suits and high heels in January 2012 to chase a dream.

Her first company, Advance Kids Inc., founded in 2001 to serve young children and adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, was well-established and managed by a team of directors. Trusting her team to hold down the fort, Wenell grabbed her boots and headed to Shingle Springs to turn a 56-acre ranch into a place where adults with developmental disabilities could thrive, participate, socialize, build, grow and, ultimately, shine.

The ranch is an adult day program licensed by the state to serve adults diagnosed within the autism spectrum. Why provide such a program in a large open setting? Individuals with autism have many talents and strengths that cannot be optimized in a contained, indoor environment. They are often sensitive to fluorescent lighting, close proximity of other people, echoes and loud noises and prefer the opportunity to be physically active. Further, when individuals are given a choice about their daily activities, they have fewer behavior problems and live a better quality of life.

The ranch has more than 30 different chores that need to be completed each day, offering its team members choice, physical activity and social opportunities in a peaceful, spacious environment.

Wenell knew that if she was going to build this program, she would need to create a situation where there were plenty of activities to keep 30 adults busy five days a week with meaningful work, while at the same time providing opportunities to teach basic job skills that will increase the likelihood that paid work could be obtained in the future. This is how the full-service horse boarding, garden, petting zoo and non-public school were born.

Opportunity Acres is a full-service horse boarding facility offering stall boarding with all-day turn out and pasture boarding. The horses are groomed and their bodies checked and charted daily. Fly masks and blankets are such a hassle for owners to manage so Opportunity Acres does it for them. Boarders’ horses are held for farriers and veterinarian visits as well. Board includes two hay meals per day and grain is provided by the boarders but delivered by the team members once a day. The horses who live at Opportunity Acres are well taken care of and loved dearly.

Wenell hopes to open our first classroom for high school students diagnosed within the autism spectrum in June 2014. The new buildings have just arrived at the ranch and will be set up and soon ready for students. The gardens will be built in the summer of 2014 and the petting zoo should be open for elementary educational tours in the fall of 2014.

“It has been a long journey and we have so much more to do. This dream, however, is surely becoming a reality,” Wenell said. “The magic that happens between the animals and the team members is something you cannot describe. It just has to be seen.”

Opportunity Acres is located at 7315 S. Shingle Road in Shingle Springs. For more information call 530-672-9462 or e-mail mwenell@oppacres.com.

Special to the Democrat

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