We all face struggles and challenges, some more visible than others. But approaching our lives with joy and gratitude can lead to healing.

At least that’s the way Robin Bartholf sees it.

Bartholf is executive director of Ephphatha Community Farm at 93 Bassett Road in Winslow where on Sept. 30 she is inviting people with physical, developmental or emotional challenges to come from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and interact with horses, goats, chickens and other animals, enjoy refreshments such as cider and cookies, paint pumpkins and frolic in nature.

The event is free at the 100-acre farm, whose name is an ancient Aramaic word meaning “be opened.”

Research shows, according to Bartholf, that interacting with animals decreases the incidence of suicide among people with post traumatic stress disorder, including military veterans.

“What I’d like to see is a community coming together,” Bartholf said Thursday. “You don’t feel so isolated. Life has a way of dealing the cards sometimes, cruelly, but if you feel not alone, no matter what, you feel valued and I think you have the strength to go forward in your life.”


Bartholf exudes empathy and compassion and she talks about those who visit the positive, supportive environment of the farm and connect with the animals, particularly the therapy horses.

“They’ll sniff them and the person can pet them and feel their bodies, and the heat of the horse can be very calming for people with PTSD symptoms, stress and anxiety,” she said.

The horses at the farm are calm and understanding, according to Bartholf.

“Our horses never flinch at walkers or oxygen tanks or wheelchairs,” she said.

Her dream of opening Ephphatha became reality in 2016, but she had to close it for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. She has first-hand experience working with those who are challenged.

“Our oldest son was born deaf-blind and was educated at Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts,” she said. “I was parent coordinator there and was a substitute aide for the teachers. He was there for 12 years.”


Bartholf became immersed in the culture and ambience of the school and proficient in communicating with people using sign language. She worked with those who have severe disabilities and learned how to approach, act around and read people. Prior to being at Perkins, she and her son, Konrad, who now is 36 and lives at the Winslow farm, spent time at a similar farm in Pennsylvania when he was very small.

“I was just very touched with how they approached people — the feel, the camaraderie, the joy,” Bartholf said.

Her husband, Roland Knausenberger, a Waterville physician, serves as medical advisor to the Winslow farm’s five-member board of directors.

Bartholf said she still visits Perkins every couple of months and sees the teachers she knew when they were students. Living in the world is all about connections, being together and finding happiness, no matter our situation, according to Bartholf.

“I think together — that is what our future is,” she said, “being together.”

More information about the nonprofit is available at ephphathacommunity.org.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book“Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published this year by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

Comments are no longer available on this story