New Program is Making Dreams Come True
By Carol Weemes
Posted on March 11, 2015, March 11, 2015

Congratulations to the first Animal Services Heritage Program winners! This year-long team effort culminated in an evening of informative and moving presentations at the Animal Services Center on March 6, delivered by seven aspiring students destined for success. The students' performances were judged on professionalism, the accuracy of the depiction of the subject or subject matter, and the quality of the delivery of the presentation. Each and every student did an amazing job. Dreams do come true in Arlington, the American Dream City!

A gift donation totaling $1,500 was made possible by the partnership and generosity of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Texas that provided scholarship awards and a reception for the Heritage Team. Hats off to the front-runners': Taylor Kennedy, the first place winner, awarded $500; Deanna Hilliard, in second place with $400; and Allen York, awarded the third place title and $300. After presenting the three top awards, courtesy of the SPCA, Animal Services Manager Chris Huff surprised everyone by announcing that she and her husband would provide a $100 scholarship fund to each of the four remaining students in celebration of the first year completion. Every student participating in this new program came away a winner.

As Huff rapidly grew the volunteer program participation numbers from 10 to over 500, she recognized a deficiency in the number of minority volunteer participants. Huff is known for her enthusiasm and ever present talent of inspiring new programs to promote education and responsible pet ownership. The Heritage Program, created by Huff, is a unique initiative designed to attract a diverse group of junior high and high school students. The program stimulates youth participation in volunteerism, inspires scholarship opportunities, and the reward of giving back to the community. The goal is a long term positive effect that invests in the community through the enrichment of youth, while also benefiting homeless animals. The program is helping grow a more collective volunteer base while supporting quality education. Huff describes this year's group of Heritage Team participants as champions. Together, the students provided over 1,100 community service hours, and many of them have decided to remain volunteers.

This new program coincides with Arlington Libraries annual Black History month. The group of participating students must fulfill requirements throughout the year. They must become an approved Animal Services Center volunteer, and attend monthly meetings as a team to prepare for an end of year presentation regarding a heritage leader, or a legendary event. This year's students and presentations included:

  • Taylor Kennedy on the Freedom Riders -First Place
  • Deanna Hilliard on Harriet Tubman -Second Place
  • Allen York on Malcom X -Third Place
  • Vanessa Blaylock on Bill Cosby
  • Kelsey Ohene on Ella Fitzgerald
  • Stephanie Parajon on Maya Angelou
  • Davesha Taylor on Rosa Parks

Huff congratulated each student, and expressed a special affection for this being her first group to mentor in the program. Not only did each of the students complete volunteer orientation to become approved shelter volunteers, they also attended educational classes about pets and responsibility. Additionally, they participated in a Golden PAWS project, and fostered one animal, or completed one major shelter project. Huff stated that she was "totally impressed with these students who made it completely through the program and projects." Participant, volunteer and first place winner, Taylor Kennedy, has agreed to step-up to help Huff mentor the next group of Heritage Team volunteers.

Special thanks to all who support this program, community partners and sponsors, Director of Strategic Initiatives for SPCA of Texas, Linda Yarbrough; Arlington Animal Services Center Board Member, Brian Ganges; Director of Events for Cool Jazz Forever, Rod Kyle; Arlington Animal Services staff and founder of the Heritage Program, Chris Huff.

Registration for the 2015-2016 program ends on April 1, 2015. Those currently in junior high or high school interested in joining the Arlington Animal Services Heritage Team should email Chris.Huff@ArlingtonTX.gov or call 817-459-6269.

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