LAHARPE — Among the great train of worthwhile programs offered by SAFE BASE — Iola’s after-school program — is its Junior Volunteer outing. Headed by licensed social worker Susan Hawk, Junior Volunteers buses school children, kindergarten through sixth grade, to the Allen County Animal Rescue Facility, where students split their time between volunteer work — cleaning floors, walking dogs, filling litter boxes — and a period of intensive “snuggle time” with some of the facility’s furriest tenants.
“For one, they’re learning what happens behind the scenes here,” said Hawk. “But they’re also learning what it feels like to give, and what it does for others when you give of your time and skills. It will be important in their later lives to have that basis of volunteering.”
And the interactions with the animals? For Hawk, the moment when a first-grader cradles a nervous puppy to his chest — this is the perfect time to explore values of empathy, of kindness, of care for others. “We’re learning what it looks like when an animal comes in and it’s been abused — how does that animal feel? What I do, then, is try and equate those ideas back into the feelings of human experience.”
Since the program began in March, many of the Junior Volunteers, moved by their interactions with the animals, have insisted on donating their allowance money to the struggling rescue facility.
TUESDAY’S session was reserved for the younger group (K – 2nd). Around 4:30 p.m., six bright-faced, well-behaved Junior Volunteers — a shy one, a bubbly one, two best friends, a watchful one, and a class clown — marched in a line from their bus into the offices of ACARF and trod, as ones who’ve traveled the carpeted path many times before, to the conference room at the back of the shelter. They took their seats around the table and awaited their assignments.
Karen Glukowsky and Broden Westerman were put on dish duty. The two children hurried down a long hallway and gained their positions at a large, industrial sink. ACARF employee Brittni Israel turned on the water and adjusted the high-powered spray. “I like doing dishes,” said Karen Glukowsky, who suddenly remembered she was still wearing her glasses, and so removed them, folding their tiny plastic arms one over the other, and placed them on the counter, out of the way, before rejoining Broden at the sink.
Emma Michael, Sheridan Byrd and Adelyn Wacker were handed two bottles of glass cleaner and a handful of loose newspaper pages and gently asked to attend to the many windows at the LaHarpe facility. The helpless fact about five-, six-, and seven-year-olds is that they’re short. Still, it’s to the girls’ credit that the lower half of all of ACARF’s windows now rank as some of the cleanest in the county.
Christopher Kilby was in charge of sweeping the hallway. He did a good job, and was able to sweep while simultaneously riding his broom like a horse.
Chores done, the six kids regrouped in the conference room for the crowning point of their visit. Within minutes, the adults — Hawk, Israel, bus driver Heather Jones — were passing out puppies — a brown one and two black ones, none more than a few weeks old. The kids cheered and cooed and laughed. They ran their fingers through each puppy’s fur. They leaned close, inviting kisses from the puppies. They placed their hands against the tiny barrel of one puppy’s torso and felt its relentless trembling. “He’s scared,” one girl said. “It’s OK, puppy. It’s OK.”
A six-year-old’s allowance can only go so far in lifting a financially ailing organization. ACARF is asking willing adults to match the Junior Volunteers in their spirit of giving.
Contact ACARF at 620-496-3647 or on Facebook.