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Alpaca Farm Festival Funds Reading Program

“Reading is the basis for everything,” Iron Station resident Shelly Walsh said.

She and husband Mike, owners of Good Karma Ranch Alpacas, located on Brevard Place Road, plan to donate a portion of the proceeds from their second annual fall festival to purchase books for their son’s school, Catawba Springs Elementary in Denver.

Due to a lack of state funding, the school has zero funds for buying books.

“There are no funds this year for anything,” Shelly Walsh said.

According to Principal Kristi Smith, the learning facility maintains a Guiding Reading Program for all students, grades kindergarten through fifth, and stocks each classroom with a library, from which children can choose material on a variety of reading levels.

While Smith first approached the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) about the possibility of funding teacher training for the program, Shelly Walsh felt more strongly about the school’s need for books.

As a result, she approached her husband about using their family-friendly farm event to raise awareness and money for reading material.

The couple will be seeking a suggested $5 donation from each family at the gate and hope to raise at least $500 for the school.

Cherry Berry in Denver will also be donating a percentage of their festival sales to the reading program, Shelly Walsh said.

“Learning how to read is the most important skill (students) can obtain at this age,” she noted.

As a former English teacher and mother to a first-grader, the Lincoln County resident felt prompted to do something positive, fearful students’ reading abilities would suffer without the right material. On the other hand, she knew providing the right supplies would keep each child’s competency skills flourishing.

“If they have access to all kinds of books, they will continue to grow,” Shelly Walsh said.

Through the program, Smith revealed, teachers instruct the class with a mini-lesson before breaking students into groups, based on their individual reading levels.

Children additionally read a second book on their own and a third book — oftentimes more challenging — during a one-on-one, read-aloud session with the teacher.

“We want to meet students where they are and take them to the next level,” Smith said.

For the program to work correctly, each student needs an average of six books. Therefore, Smith would like to see roughly 500 books stocked in every classroom library.

School officials plan to bring in a guiding reading consultant later this year to aid teachers in better implementing the program, Smith said.

She added how state funding for textbooks has also decreased, resulting in fewer updated ones from year-to-year.

The Walsh family hoped their philosophy on the importance of reading would be evident to all festival-goers this year.

The event was held Saturday, October 12.

Mike Walsh said he and Shelly have been breeding alpacas since 2009, six years after they moved to the property.

While they initially tended to horses, they soon opted to purchase alpacas and start a business.

Not only do they shear the animals for profit but also sell additional alpaca products.

They currently care for 30 of the unique mammals.

“I never thought I would be raising alpacas,” Mike Walsh said. “I would have laughed 10 years ago for someone even suggesting it.”

For more information on the ranch, call (704) 649-5849 or visit