Tag Archives: service

Ashley Walker aims to inspire community service

BSE ALUMNA and Mohawk sophomore Ashley Walker (above, with sister Kate) is driven to help others. Volunteering at the West County Community Meal at Trinity Church has been a huge part of her life, as are field hockey, lifeguarding, and scholastics, and she plans to go on to the Air Force as a critical care nurse.
BSE ALUMNA and Mohawk sophomore Ashley Walker (above, with sister Kate) is driven to help others. Volunteering at the West County Community Meal at Trinity Church has been a huge part of her life, as are field hockey, lifeguarding, and scholastics, and she plans to go on to the Air Force as a critical care nurse.

MOHAWK—Sophomore Ashley Walker is approaching her 10th year of volunteering at the weekly Friday night West County Community Meal at Trinity Church.

She tells her friends, “The good feeling I get after volunteering is indescribable. Oftentimes it’s a struggle for families or individuals to enjoy a healthy, home-cooked meal and good company. I’ve developed memorable relationships with each of the diners, and we treat one another just like family.”

For anyone new to the supper, she promises a warm welcome:
“We’re always looking for more volunteers and workers. Feel free to contact me about lending a helping hand.”

Ashley attended BSE from pre-K through 6th grade and says she loved it, particularly the community service aspect.

Asked her views on community service during a break in her lifeguard duties at the Buckland Rec one day this summer, she said participating in BSE’s recycling program, where students took the initiative to go room to room collecting recycling bins at the end of every day, made a lasting impression.

“I was inspired by so many people. I looked for ways to contribute to the community ever since, and the community meal is so big to me.”
She credits her elementary school teachers for leaving her with the drive to get involved.

“I loved BSE. Teachers still stay in contact with me. If they see me on the street or something they’ll have the biggest grin on their face.”

At the community meal, Ashely says, volunteers serve 40 to 60 people a week. She puts in four to five hours a shift. The meals themselves are prepared by different West County groups.

Ashley also gives her all playing field hockey but makes sure to fit the community meal into her schedule. It’s tough but I love it. I’ve written several articles [for school] on community service and the community meal,” she says.

Her life plans include joining the Air Force as a critical-care nurse, and she’s taking advanced coursework now to prepare.
Naturally, she’s also focused on doing good right here at home, hoping to inspire kids to get involved where they can:

“I don’t think many people realize how much the community needs your help — teenagers especially.”

Trinity Church is at 17 Severance St. For more information, call 625-2341.

Evan Shippee, BSE ’14, honored with Kennedy ‘difference’ award

Mohawk student Evan Shippee is committed to helping his neighbors.
Mohawk student Evan Shippee is committed to helping his neighbors.

MOHAWK—BSE alumnus and Mohawk Middle School student Evan Shippee is one of only 100 middle-schoolers statewide to have landed the prestigious 2015 John F. Kennedy Make a Difference Award “for the impact they have made in their communities through service projects.”

Shippee, who started at BSE in preschool and graduated here in 2014, was nominated for the honor by his seventh-grade PBL teacher, Samantha Lydiard.

He’s done everything from stacking wood for people who need help to raising money for Relay for Life.

His mother, Tammy Shippee, noted Evan “is a truly genuine, giving soul. I know I’m his mom, but he has one of the biggest hearts I know. He likes doing things that make people happy. He likes to make people smile.”

The 2015 Award Ceremony was held Thursday, April 9, at the Kennedy Library in Boston. Each award winner received a personalized “Make a Difference” award certificate in recognition of his or her service efforts.

Receiving the honor, he tells the Flow, “was really awesome and made me feel special. It felt good to be recognized. I enjoy volunteering and helping people. It makes me feel good. I was a bit shy getting up onstage to receive my award. It’s a moment I will always remember.”

In his Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously challenged all Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Diggity Dogs offers people in need a helping paw

Diggity Dogs Service Dogs Executive Director Sarah Meikle with Royce, a recent graduate of her program.
Diggity Dogs Service Dogs Executive Director Sarah Meikle with Royce, a recent graduate of her program.

SHELBURNE—Diggity Dogs Service Dogs on the Mohawk Trail trains service dogs and arranges local foster care for dogs going through service dog training.

They specialize in psychiatric and medical alert service dogs. These are dogs that help people with mobility, post-traumatic-stress disorder, and a range of psychiatric needs. Medical alert dogs can serve people with seizure disorders.

Sarah Meikle, founder of Diggity Dogs, studied psychology at Smith College. She began to research psychiatric dogs and then enrolled in Psychiatric Service Dog Academy in Florida to experience the practical side of her studies.

Credit: Brooke Looman
Sarah Meikle prepares foster dogs for exceptional service to people who need canine care.

She started her organization a year ago. A board of directors and a board of advisers support it. They work primarily with rescue dogs. They take breeder donations, which are usually hypoallergenic dogs for people who have allergies.

The dogs are assessed then fostered a couple weeks after being pulled out of shelters. The foster families attend weekly classes and work in-home with Sarah. Fosters bring the dogs to work so the dog gets experience living as a service dog.

The dogs learn how to travel, shop, and go into restaurants and other public settings in their first level.

However, these are specialized service dogs. With two people with the same condition, the symptoms may manifest differently.

For example, Sarah explains, people who suffer from PTSD often suffer from nightmares. The response from the dog that the person wants may be very different from another person.

Sarah says some veterans have told her that they worry about being startled by their dog if it should lick their face. They don’t want to lash out and punch it.

Other people may find a dog’s lick comforting.

The process of training the dog specifically for one person intensifies after they have been trained in the standards for public access.

Applicants go through one to two weeks of intensive classes with the dogs. Afterward they spend a year in continued training.

According to Sarah, many applicants even live well outside the region, coming from as far as California for a Diggity Dog.

DD-BOOKS
Several of the books in Diggity Dogs Service Dogs Executive Director Sarah Meikle’s office.

However, the nonprofit tries to help as many local people as possible. Most people looking for service dogs have to wait two to five years.

The fees are $10,000 to $25,000. Sarah says she tries to defray these costs by using rescue dogs and foster volunteers. She places dogs for $5,000.

Community effort

The community supports Diggity Dogs. One of their patron saints is Joe Palmeri, a local business owner, who waived the rent of Diggity Dogs’ Mohawk Trail training center for its first six months. Hope & Olive in Greenfield, and The Rendezvous in Turners Falls, have helped raise funds. Central Connecticut River Valley Institute sponsored Diggity Dogs until it got its official nonprofit status.

One applicant who had a dog placed with her from a shelter has an autoimmune disorder. She has many difficulties that cause her to spend an enormous amount of time in the hospital, Sarah said.

The applicant, a violinist from Puerto Rico, was studying law. She was relocated to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Sarah says she recently received letters from her, and the doctors gave a remarkable testimony to the power of the service dog Diggity Dogs placed with her.

They reported a tremendous improvement physically. Her body is healing rapidly, and her symptoms have dropped. If they had known this would have had such an amazing effect on her life they would have prescribed it years ago, she said.

Flow staffer Brooke Looman shoots and scores for this ambitious feature. Her questions and notes went a long way to helping us bring this story to readers.
Flow staffer Brooke Looman shoots and scores for this ambitious feature. Her questions and notes went a long way to helping us bring this story to readers.

“Her emotional state being addressed with the help of the dog is helping her physical health,” Sarah adds.

“We are young, but the demand is overwhelming,” Sarah says. She explains she often gets more than one application a day. Many applicants need financial support to afford a service dog.

Diggity Dogs has a link on its website where people can support an applicant.

 


For more information, visit indogswetrust.org.