A Feel Good Story

Open the door! I thought as I stood there with a heavy bag on my shoulder, and a pup tugging at his leash to further explore. I was at one of our residential sites, and I had a class to get to. There was a staff person trying to get through the door and she had just gotten a new set of keys. She was trying every single one and I politely said, “Having a little trouble?” Then, a counselor with his own set of keys came over to save the day.

“Here, I’ll get it for you,” he said.

“Well, I still need to know which key is the right one for this door,” the staff lady mumbled.

Inside I groaned. I’m going to be late!  I complained silently.

Right next to me was one of my male students. From the first day he had touched my heart. I had come in as usual, accompanied by an over sweet and loving dog, who had been rescued from a life of neglect. He certainly was not neglected anymore! The young man had nearly jumped in excitement.

“A dog! Oh, I miss my dog at home so much! Can I pet him?” he asked.

“Sure can,” I replied, and smiled as he got on the floor to give the dog a hug.

All during the lesson he watched me teach with glazed eyes, as if in a dream, as he petted Beau methodically. When it was time to leave, he got right back down on the floor and told him, “Bye, Beau. I’ll see you soon. Thanks for coming to our class.”

This is the magic of the dog in Healing Species, I thought.

It had been a few weeks since that day but each week that I came, this young man had been tough on the outside, to the group of his all-girl peers, but when he saw whichever dog came with me that day, he melted into a sweet child again.

Today at the table we did a lesson. We made up a personal motto for ourselves, something to repeat to keep us on track, and we wrote them on cardstock as reminders. He was proud to show me his. “No matter what, anyone can change.”

“Wow, that is a great motto!” I told him.

“Thanks. You know my birthday is coming up next month!” he said excitedly.

“Oh yeah? How old will you be?” I asked.

“13.”

My heart jumped. So young, I thought. You are too young to be here! What was going on at home to land this baby in a residential program so young?

What I said was, “Oh, wow! You look older! At least 15.” And he smiled like I knew he would, appreciative that I thought he was older.

So I was standing there waiting to get out the door and I look over and it’s him standing there waiting too. Just us, and the counselor and the staff lady struggling with the keys. I saw my opportunity.

“I’m really impressed by you. There’s something about you. You have a deep soul, and a sincere heart. You know, you are really going to go places in life.”

Genuine shock was on his face, in his eyes. He said nothing. It was like the compliment hadn’t landed on him yet.

Then it did.

“Thanks,” he said, and he gave me a quick half hug before he quickly shuffled away. He was smiling.

On the way to the next class I weighed it all out. If that staff lady hadn’t been there or if the girls had been around, I would not have had that chance, that moment with him to encourage him. My moment of frustration had turned out to be the best, most significant moment of my day.

This young man deserves a chance. And all of heaven and earth is working together to help him believe in himself again. Healing Species is more than rescuing dogs and having them come with us into schools.

It’s about bringing in a living, breathing example of how love transforms.

Rescued dogs are rescuing children. I am proud to be a part of this team.

We would love to have you as a part of our team, too. Any donation is so sincerely appreciated. The gifts of others is what has made this dream possible. No matter what the size, we thank you.

http://www.healingspecies.com/get-involved/donate-today

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Fourth Grader

“We have a visitor today, so I need everyone to be on their very best behavior because we have a lot to cover and just a little time to do it!” I smiled at my classroom of fourth graders. “Y’all make me look good, okay?” I winked and loud whispered, and the whole class laughed including our guest, a Healing Species board member, there to observe a class in action.
I’ll never forget that class. The semester had gotten off to a rough start. I had a few boys, who, although they had the best of intentions, could not seem to get along with one another long enough to hear or participate in any of the lesson. I had tried moving them, sitting down with them after class to have a talk of encouragement, and talking with the teacher. I cringed when they misbehaved, because the teacher would do what seemed most natural to her: take them out of Healing Species, because participation was considered a privilege. No! Don’t do that! I would think. They are who needs this the most. 
 
I was teaching class one day about mid-semester, and the boys were starting their antics – the name calling, the scowls, the pent-up anger bursting to get out. I panicked on the inside and glanced quickly at the teacher, who was already rising from her desk.
“Nathaniel, can you help me pass out these papers?” I asked quickly.
“Yes!” and he scrambled quickly to the front of the room, proud to do something for the teacher.
“Ja’quan do you mind erasing this board for me, so it’s squeaky clean for your teacher?”
“Whoo! I’ll do it!” He jumped up.
“Jose, would you please wrap my TV cord up and put my folders in my bag while I take Beau around for dog time?”
“Yes, mam!” He smiled, happy to have a job.
After class, I called the three boys over. “Thank you so much for your help! Do y’all want some Beau time before we leave?”
“YES!” they all fell on Beau, petting his head and talking in dog voice to him. Beau sat there smiling, loving the attention.
“Next week, do you three think you could help me again?” I asked seriously.
“I’ll do it, Ms. Amanda.” “Me, too!” “Yes, mam!” They replied.
And so I had found my solution. Give the boys a job, something to do, a purpose. Their shoulders went back, they lifted their chins, and smiles filled their faces as they left the classroom.
Since then, our class had transformed. The boys who once had been the troublemakers were now the leaders, and they took this position seriously. They had always been leaders, just now, they were leading in a different way.  I smiled over at our guest and asked if she would like to help give out Certificates of Completion with me. Today was our very last day, and we did a project, where the students “graduate” and as part of a compassion exercise, they made cards to thank someone special in their lives.
That class was phenomenal. My heart was full as they stood in the line and received their Certificates, shaking my hand with their shy, but proud smiles. Looking over at our guest, I could tell she was feeling it too. She had the look:  appreciation, admiration, and wonder at these exceptional nine and ten year-olds. I looked on like a proud momma duck.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what happened next.
The students were leaving and saying their goodbyes and hugging me tight around the waist, when I got a tap on the shoulder.
“Ms. Amanda, I wanted to give you this.” One of my three boys were standing there, with a card.
“Oh my goodness, how wonderful!” I said as I opened it. It was truly beautifully decorated and elaborate. Inside it said, “Thank you for teaching me how to have empathy.” And there was a picture of Beau and myself, teaching.
“I will never forget you. You keep being that leader I see in you, okay?” I smiled down at him.
“Yes, Ms. Amanda” he beamed.
I walked away from that school, knowing that at least two lives had forever been changed by Healing Species, yet again.
His, and mine.

Instead of Straight A’s, We Celebrate Acts of Kindness

Sister and I are the lucky two who get to launch the Healing Species Literacy Project at a Lexington One Elementary School.  I am finding that Second Graders might be the best audience on the planet, but maybe it is because I show up with a dog.  Never before have I felt SO welcomed, popular or gorgeous–yes, they are generous with the compliments AND the fan mail.  I watch these little people race to hold the door for me, carry my bags and drag over a chair for reading time.  “Katie” whispers that she wants to sit in my lap.  “Mathew” makes a list to remind me of who gets to fill Sister’s water bowl.  “Marcus” asks me to be his mom.
Everyone needs to see the Literacy Project in action.  These kids are learning and retaining new vocabulary.  They discuss Cause and Effect in literature.  They write poetry.  Because they understand empathy, they feel brave enough to share private things with the class:
“I need help tying my shoes.”
“I still need training wheels with my big bike.”
“I live with my Grandmother.”
Week after week, I watch these kids take risks, challenge and support one another and make connections. I encourage them to have awareness, to be an advocate, to trust their gut.  Instead of straight A’s, we celebrate acts of kindness.  We decide that we would not want to live in a world where everyone is the same.  I trust them with my own private truths:
“Ms. Amy can not jump rope.”
“Ms. Amy has trouble remembering right from left.”
They reassure me that I am not alone.  It’s good company.