Students with Assistance Dogs of the West get a lot of than school credit. They learn leadership skills compassion for others, and the chance to make a real community contribution. “Buildings a relationship based on learning, trust and love is a gift we give in each class,” says ADW founder Jill Felice. “Every student succeeds and completes the program with a tangible outcome – a dog that goes to a grateful client.”
Stewart Youngblood, a fourteen-year-old with ADW for five years. He began in his sixth grade class and has worked after school ever since. “I have greater compassion for dogs than I used to, I understand them a lot better.” His dad said that Stewart really loves the program. “Since Stewart has worked with different dogs over the years he has a feeling of empathy with everybody and so he’s also become more flexible with people.”
Vicky Wiener, fifteen, chose to train service dogs as part of her bat mitzvah commitment and school mentoring program. “Before I worked with Jill and the dogs, I would get frustrated with myself especially when I wrote or danced. The hardest part of training dogs was learning patience but now I’m even patient with myself. The easiest part of training was getting the dogs to trust me, but then by trusting me, Jill taught me to trust myself.”
Wiener was awarded from the New Mexico Governor’s commission for Volunteers, for performing outstanding community service and making an impact in 2004. She learned on February 22, 2005 of her second communication service award, this one from the President of the United States.
Another student who chose to give his bar mitzvah money to Assistance Dogs of the West is Maw Bennet, “It’s great because it helps dogs and people – trainers and kids from all over Santa Fe.” In his social justice class Max also spoke about giving, “You don’t have to be wealthy or be retired to give and it’s not hard to help like some people think: it’s fun.”
Max’s mom thinks the program is awesome. “Max has developed a sense of empowerment, like: Wow! I can do anything.” Working with ADW has also taught Max generosity. “He does it because he loves it, and giving his dog to a waiting client gets easier each year.”
More than 250 students have helped Assistance Dogs of the West place over fifty dogs since 1995. These students learn to love, to trust and to give. They also seriously improve the quality of life in their community.