Blake Ridgway enjoys working with kids and animals. At Forget Me Not Farm in Santa Rosa, he found a perfect place to volunteer.
Ridgway mentors foster kids who are learning how to care for animals at the farm, a program of Sonoma County's Humane Society. "It's an opportunity to change the lives of kids and help animals, too," he said.
Last year, he worked with a 17-year-old boy inside the Humane Society's animal shelter. They helped abused dogs with socialization and training by walking the dogs and teaching them to obey basic commands.
"Working as a team was really great," Ridgway said. His young partner, who was raised in foster homes, had a knack for helping troubled animals.
"He had an innate ability to work with dogs that were highly aggressive," Ridgway said. "He's a really mellow kid."
The animal shelter's staff was impressed with the young man and gave him more challenging assignments. "Once they saw how the dogs reacted to him, they upped the ante," Ridgway said.
"There was a real sense of pride for him. It was neat to see his confidence."
Ridgway now is mentoring his second foster teen.
Forget Me Not Farm's mentoring program is for foster youth aged 14 to 19. They learn skills that can lead to jobs as veterinary assistants, dog trainers, dog groomers or animal care technicians.
About 100 kids have been through the program, said director Carol Rathmann. For those who have been exposed to violence, it's a way to learn compassion.