Well, here is a win-win! A Biology major with aspirations toward becoming a veterinarian has created a unique and innovative program serving the needs of homeless youth and homeless animals in Philadelphia.
Rachel Cohen has always been passionate where animals are concerned. The University of Pennsylvania junior saw many homeless young people on her way to classes and instinctively reached out to talk with them.
Many youth who age out of foster care at 18 live on the streets with pets of their own. Because most shelters will not allow pets, these kids live under overpasses and any other potentially warm, dry spot they can find.
The statistics from a recent video made about Rachel’s innovative program, Hand2Paw, states one in two foster children leave the program at age 18 without a high school diploma. One in four leaves the system without even a place to live.
The numbers for Philadelphia’s homeless animals are dreadful, too. Last year 4,360 dogs and over 12,000 cats and kittens were euthanized because they had no home.
With her heart reaching out to the struggling young people living hand to mouth, Rachel decided to start a program combining the needs of homeless kids and homeless animals. She named it Hand2Paw.
Starting in early 2010, Rachel coordinated Hand2Paw with other agencies in the city. Covenant House and Project H.O.M.E. service young homeless teens in Philadelphia, teaching them how to successfully transition between foster care and life on their own. PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society) is a rescue group with an outstanding record of saving the many homeless animals who also get caught in a bureaucratic system.
“Hand2Paw is a mutually beneficial program of the two causes I am most passionate about,” Rachel told me in an interview.
To date, over 70 teens have participated in Hand2Paw. They volunteer at local shelters to help socialize and train the dogs, provide socialization to the cats and kittens through gentle handling, bathe the many animals rescued from a filthy life on the streets and comfort the sick, orphaned animals.
By performing these tasks, the teens are learning professional skills and responsibility. Internships are provided for some of the youth interested in pursuing a career with animals.
How You Can Help
Hand2Paw is still in its infancy and is not a non-profit organization, so no formal fundraising is yet possible. But, Rachel has made it to the semi-finals for a potential Students in Service Awards™ grant. Please help her by voting.
You can vote as often as you like, so please do! Aside from the possibility of a $5,000 academic scholarship, Rachel could win a $2,500 grant for Hands2Paws. This will go a long way in helping fund the paid internships – a major part of the Hands2Paw program.
If you like this idea, why not spread the word? Ask around your local areas if anyone would like to start a similar program. Surely, not every homeless teen will enjoy working with animals, but a program like Hand2Paw will provide those who are drawn to pets a way to develop self esteem while helping other, less fortunate creatures.
Way to go, Rachel!
Photo by Amy DiDomineco - of two Hand2Paw youth volunteers socializing kittens - used with permission.
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