NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A South Louisiana woman is combining her love of kids and animals to help rescue both, and she's doing it with little help from the outside.
Inside a Thibodaux barn, Shari Champagne sees many life lessons unfolding - with a horse named Angel and kids from all over the area.
The 2,000-pound draft horse was rescued from an abusive situation in Pennsylvania six years ago.
"A lot of horses don't like children," says Champagne. "She just turned out to be a rescue that does."
For Champagne, it was a match made in heaven.
"I deal with bullied children, kids in foster care, children at all levels of being abused, mistreated, neglected, abandoned," Champagne says. "They respond to Angel in a way I've never seen before."
Champagne, a children's advocate and an animal rescuer, decided to bring the two together through equine therapy.
"Every child I've had come in contact with Angel or any of the horses, they find peace and happiness. Anything they have going on outside the barn, it goes away," says Champagne, who's helped thousands of children over the years.
Kids like 12 year old Gavin Beebe, who has been interacting with Champagne's horses for the past 5 years.
"It feels good to care for an animal. Clean them and groom them. You could help them have a better life," Beebe says. "It just makes me feel better."
Champagne knows their challenges.
"A lot of the kids are dealing with things we can't even imagine and it makes all of that go away when where they are with a 2000 pound animal or they're brushing her, bathing her or feeding her or doing hay. All of the other stuff just goes away," says Champagne.
Champagne doesn't expect anything in return.
The kids who come through her programs do so for free.
"So I fund it through my small business," Champagne says. "For kids, if they need boots or something to wear, I get that and if they need to get to me, I can pick them up."
Right now, Champagne’s using borrowed space at her horse farrier’s ranch, but has plans to expand.
Danielle Williams says her teenage daughter Jasmine has blossomed as a result of spending time with Champagne and the animals at the ranch.
"I think she's great for the community and great for the children," says Williams. "She's teaching them how to grow up and help their peers, as well as help animals in the community."
Champagne hopes to build her own Infinity Ranch and Rescue one day.
"So that means I can bring in more children or animals. I can save many more lives in terms of children and animals," Champagne says. "If we all give back just a little bit then everybody's giving something. So that's what I try to instill in the kids I help. It teaches them to give back"
Champagne runs an anti-bullying program called 'You Be the Change' as well as a kickboxing gym for kids.
She's also an animal cruelty investigator for the Louisiana Humane Society.
Shari Champagne is truly a great neighbor, committed to making a difference.