Elsie’s Barnyard to host Animal Fashion Show

3 ‘celebrity’ judges to award $400 in cash prizes

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 5/22/24

ELLSWORTH – What’s cuter than fuzzy animals in costume? Not much. Elsie’s Barnyard is hosting an animal fashion show in June sure to register a 100 on the cuteness scale. And …

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Elsie’s Barnyard to host Animal Fashion Show

3 ‘celebrity’ judges to award $400 in cash prizes


ELLSWORTH – What’s cuter than fuzzy animals in costume? Not much. Elsie’s Barnyard is hosting an animal fashion show in June sure to register a 100 on the cuteness scale. And you’re invited to participate or watch.

Elsie’s Barnyard, located at W6212 450th Ave., Ellsworth, is a non-profit organization dedicated to “restoring and strengthening the hearts, minds and souls of children and families facing adverse medical conditions through interacting with animals and nature.”

Mandy Fleming and her family opened up their farm to other families in order to give them the same benefits as their daughter Elsie, who has Down Syndrome. Fleming noticed that her daughter’s motor skills, speech and language improved while interacting with animals. The farm gives visitors the opportunity to “grieve the difficult circumstances they face, acknowledge the adversity around them, and celebrate the progress they have made,” according to their vision statement.

The Uptown Animals Fundraiser will take place 2-5 p.m. Sunday, June 2 in the Cattle Arena at the Pierce County Fairgrounds in Ellsworth, rain or shine. The goal is to raise awareness and funding necessary to fulfill Elsie’s Barnyard’s mission, which provides programs and services to families at no cost.

From 2-4 p.m., visitors can interact with animals at a petting zoo, view animal demonstrations, take pictures in a photo booth, bid on silent auction items, eat delicious food truck fare, play games and make crafts. Children and youth can pick up a punch card to be stamped at various stations and collect a prize if completed.

The Animal Fashion Show takes place at 4 p.m. with a panel of three local celebrity judges: Pierce County Sheriff Chad Koranda, KARE 11 morning show reporter Audrey Russo and Raynee Farrell of CCF Bank.

Participants will compete for $400 in cash prizes. Anyone can enter their pet in this fun fashion show and strut their stuff on the runway, as long as they can control their animal. Entries will be judged on creativity, showmanship and over all appearance.

Fleming said Elsie’s Barnyard board member Megan Hines thought up the animal fashion show.

“She called me one morning and said ‘I had a dream about animals in costumes,’” Fleming said. “We decided to make a fundraiser out of it.”

A huge silent auction features items from local businesses, as well as a signed Packer football, a Viking football, Science Museum of Minnesota passes, St. Paul Saints tickets, fireworks, Tommy Bahama gear, golf course passes and much more. Food trucks onsite will include River Road Coffee, Zion Covenant’s youth group and deep-fried delights. Joshua the sheep will show what it’s like to get sheared, which Fleming said is hilarious to watch.

“He genuinely looks like a streaker,” she laughed. “It’s so absurd the difference.”

A goat milking demonstration will take place as well.

Fleming said it’s extremely important to her that Elsie’s Barnyard does not charge for its services, so fundraising is a must. Money raised will go to programming.

“I don’t ever want finances to be a barrier for people to participate,” she said.

As a parent of a child with special needs, Fleming wants to create a place where families facing adversity have a sense of community, where they feel at home, loved and accepted. Families can enjoy a fun outdoor experience with lovable animals in a safe and adaptive environment. Elsie’s also provides special education classes the opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the community.

In 2023, Elsie’s Barnyard started offering work opportunities to teens and adults with disabilities by partnering with Always Sunny Connections, Ellsworth High School and individual families. In 2023, those volunteers logged 136 hours.

Fleming also started a T21 (Down Syndrome) Forging Friendships group. Staff from the Pierce County Birth to Three Program provides activities for toddlers allowing moms to discuss various topics and socialize independently from their children. Additionally, family days allow families to make and take crafts, play with animals and interact in a safe setting. In 2023, the Barnyard saw 459 total visits and 348 total volunteer hours.

Fleming is overwhelmed by the meaningful relationships she has forged through Elsie’s Barnyard.

“On a very retrospective note, I didn’t realize I was changing my whole sphere, my whole social network by founding Elsie’s,” she said. “More often than not, they (visitors) have kids with disabilities. It feels super natural to talk about therapy, appointments, going to Children’s… Many people can’t relate through no fault of their own. That’s what’s nice about family days. You don’t have to explain behaviors to anyone.”

Little Elsie has also become somewhat of a local celebrity. She is often recognized out and about, which melts Fleming’s heart.

“We are shifting how our community views people with disabilities,” Fleming said. “We are paving the way for my daughter years ahead of time. I don’t want Elsie or other kids with disabilities to be tolerated; I want them to be valued. For a parent who always feels like you’re being started at, it’s just nice to be supported.”

Elsie’s Barnyard is always looking for volunteers.

“If you like animals or people, and a bonus if you like both,” Fleming said. “Some just come out and help take care of the animals. Some come out to help with events. Volunteers guide their visit and help facilitate the interactions.”

For families with children battling an extended illness or the adversity a disability can bring, owning animals can be too much. That’s why Fleming encourages them to come visit their 40+ animals.

“If I can offer this place for respite, I want you to do that,” she said.

You can sign up for the fashion show or purchase tickets for the event at https://elsiesbarnyard.com/events-news/?#Fashion

Uptown Animals Fundraiser, animal fashion show, Elsie's Barnyard, special needs, children, education, nonprofit, Ellsworth, Wisconsin