Meet Alexander volunteers Carole and Larry Nicholson. They moved to Charlotte from Tennessee and have been living here for 20 years. Carole, now a retired community volunteer, used to work in advertising and marketing and Larry works in the bank security industry. They have two boys and three grandchildren ages 9, 7 and 1 month old. They enjoy doing the pet therapy program at Alexander, which provides special therapeutic visits to kids who would benefit from interaction with a well-trained, loving pet.
How did you get involved with pet therapy at Alexander Youth Network?
We have always have had dogs at home and have been doing pet therapy for 15 years. We started out doing pet therapy at nursing homes, and shortly after we met Cindi Leckey who told us about Alexander Youth Network. After we got two puppies, we trained them to become therapy dogs. We currently visit the kids in the Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) on the fourth Saturday of each month. We also visit the kids in the Day Treatment program once a month. The kids love the dogs – when they see the dogs on the playground, they yell and run towards them. If the dog is sick, they get worried. They know what the dogs like and dislike. The kids even have nicknames for our dogs Bailey and Daisy – they call them Vanilla and Chocolate.
What has surprised you most about volunteering in pet therapy?
It’s wonderful to see how loving the kids are towards the pets. I especially love to see how excited they are when the dogs arrive to campus. As a volunteer at other organizations you don’t always get quick feedback, but as Alexander volunteers we get immediate positive feedback from the kids – it makes us want to visit Alexander and help more.
Any inspiring stories to share?
I remember a memorable story. It happened 7 years ago during a Saturday visit. We were visiting with the kids, and I saw a sad little girl sitting in the corner. I walked over with my dog Daisy, and Daisy went to the little girl and gave her a kiss. The little girl stopped crying and I saw her smiling. She later told the staff: “Daisy came to make me feel better.”
What do you wish other people knew about Alexander?
I am impressed by Alexander’s staff and how they interact with the children. They give equal attention and care to each child. The staff members in Day Treatment are especially patient. I was also surprised to see that there are so many opportunities to volunteer. I had no idea that there was so much available we can do with the kids.
What do you do when you aren’t working or volunteering?
We provide pet therapy at assisted living communities and an Alzheimer day care. We also bring the dogs to a local CMS school to assist as tail wagging tutors. The third graders love reading to the dogs and it gives them the confidence to learn English, especially since a lot of them are ESL (English as a Second Language) students.
Interested in volunteer opportunities? We have a variety of ways for you to help our children. Visit our website and fill out the volunteer interest form.