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Animal Assisted Happiness Smile Farm Turns 15

Although he claims he doesn’t like animals, Keith’s heart may be changing his mind. When asked what he likes about Animal Assisted Happiness (AAH) Smile Farm, he gives it a blanket thumbs up.

The two-and-a-half-acre animal barnyard at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale—AAH Smile Farm’s home since 2017— celebrated its 15th anniversary with a gala fundraiser April 21. The nonprofit is dedicated to bringing smiles to economically disadvantaged youth and to those, such as Keith, with special needs.

“Do you like the goats?”


Keith gives a thumbs up.

“Do you want to pet a bunny?”

Thumbs up.

Keith poses for a photo with a soft white bunny, one of the “barnyard buddies.”

Keith and eight other special education 14 – 23-year-old students in his Cupertino High School Vocational Education class come to the farm and do volunteer tasks for an hour once a month.

“Do you like raking straw?”

Keith gives another thumbs up.

Students that day in early April were offered three supervised task options: Rake the straw by the bunnies, fill bags with hay for the animals to eat, or empty used coffee pods and sprinkle the grounds in the garden—where food is grown for the animals—to keep rodents away.

As well as vocational class visits, there are scheduled farm visits for special needs and disadvantaged youth; mobile visits to schools, hospitals, and camps; and virtual visits. The youth interact with barnyard buddies of all sizes: miniature horses and donkeys, alpacas, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, bunnies, guinea pigs and doves. These buddies live in ten colorful, interaction villages.

“This is a unique place in the heart of the Silicon Valley where people can see and interact with the animals. Our AAH Smile Farm is whimsical, fun and our barnyard buddies are great,” said Vicki Amon-Higa, who co-founded AAH with her husband, Peter Higa, in 2009.

They observed the joy that their miniature horse Lollipop brought to Riley Church, a young girl diagnosed with cancer and wanted to offer that joy to other needful children. Lollipop is now one of the resident barnyard buddies that, by conservative count, have inspired over 105,166 smiles.

AAH is funded through donations and grants and has been fueled by over nine thousand volunteers. Among current volunteers, almost two-thirds are 6th – 12th grade students. Adults include retirees such as the “Friday Aunties.”

Staff members Nicole Puccinelli and Jill Matuk, assisting with the special ed class visit, were drawn to AAH through their children’s volunteer involvement.

“We are blessed with a great AAH team and wonderful volunteers for sure!” said Amon-Higa. She further credits the farm’s success to “its uniqueness in Silicon Valley and, unfortunately, the growing number of youths with needs.”

She points out that the mission of the nonprofit AAH has expanded to include economically disadvantaged youth and stressed youth.

“Our Barnyard Buddies have a way with helping!” she said.

AAH is open free, no reservation needed, to children of all abilities and their families on the second Sunday of each month, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Tuesdays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. March – October, car admission is $6 to Baylands Park, 999 E. Caribbean Dr., Sunnyvale.

“We are so proud of what AAH has become and continues to be. It is a great place to visit, to volunteer, and a sanctuary for our mostly rescued barnyard buddies,” said Amon-Higa.

To find out more about AAH and Smile Farm, visit the website at

Related Posts:
Chilling Out at the Barnyard with Animal Assisted Happiness
Animal Assisted Happiness Brings Smiles Through Barnyard Animal Interactions


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