Mimi’s Ark: Helping children and animals

Zebra and ostrich share an enclosure at Children’s Nature Retreat

By Mimi Pollack

Mimi Pollack 2015

ALPINE, California — Giving back to others is always good, but when you can give back to both animals and children, that is even better! Local humanitarian, Agnes Barrelet, is doing just that by heading up two non-profits, Hands United for Children and Children’s Nature Retreat.

The Children’s Nature Retreat in Alpine is a  haven for all kinds of animals, including two zebras, four Friesian horses, African cows, mules, donkeys, rabbits, mini horses, goats, pigs, ostriches, and desert tortoises, among others. There are over 95 domesticated livestock with 17 species and 38 breeds from around the world. They all live comfortably on this beautiful 20 acre property. There are several animal enclosures, including Barnyard Alley, Tortoise Landing, African Grasslands, and Mini and Big Farms. For example, in African Grasslands, you will see the two zebras with several ostriches.

Friesian horses

One thing that struck me was how friendly most of the animals are which makes this place especially suitable for children. Barrelet opened this place in February 2017, with the goal of providing a place in the countryside where city — especially inner city — children can come and experience the beauty that nature has to offer as well as interact with the animals and learn all about them. She wants them to feel a connection that will last. CNR is working with local schools and organizations to help fund free field trips for schools and children who normally would not be able to pay for them.

This is where United Hands for Children comes in. This non-profit strives to help children in many ways. First, it helps to fund the field trips and bring joy into the lives of underprivileged children. Second, it opened the HUFC Dental Clinic on the campus of the O’Farrell Charter School in Southeast San Diego.  The clinic will serve the children who attend this charter school free of charge. Barrelet is on the school’s board.

Finally, there is the HUFC Preschool in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The preschool educates and feeds up to 120 children in remote villages. They also sponsor 39 middle and high school students. In January 2016, a nursery was added, so that many of the mothers would have a place to leave their babies while working in the fields and factories as Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) is where most of the world’s shea butter is produced.

So where does the money come to fund all of this? Donations are always welcome and once a year, they have a big fundraiser. This year the Hands United for Children 6th Annual Fundraiser Gala will be on Friday, May 19th at the Viejas Casino from 6:30 to 10:00 PM. More information is on the website: handsunited4children.org


Agnes Barrelet, second from right, and the crew of Children’s Nature Retreat


Then, there is Agnes Barrelet herself. She is a formidable woman who is very sweet with a steel core. She is steadfast in her desire to bring happiness into the lives of others, especially children, and to help animals.  Born in Nimes, France, she came to the United States in 1993 to get a BS in Business Administration.  She and her ex-husband moved to La Jolla in 1995. She fell in love with La Jolla because it reminded her of the south of France. Together, they ran a very successful website, “websidestory” that analyzed traffic on the internet. They divorced in 2011 and Barrelet sold her shares. She and her 14 year old daughter, Vanessa, now live on site, and many times nurse a sick or injured animal themselves at their home. They also live with three dogs, a cockatoo, various turtles and the biggest bearded dragon I have ever seen.

During the interview, she told me it was the movie, I Bought a Zoo, with Matt Damon, that inspired her to open this animal sanctuary. Today, working together with several experienced ranch hands and animal handlers, this inspiration has become a reality.

For more information, the website is childrensnatureretreat.com

Pollack is a freelance writer based in La Mesa, California  She may be contacted via [email protected]



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