Sera Nelson, Executive Director of Working Animals Giving Service for Kids
As long as it has taken me to put pen to paper, there seems no more appropriate a time. I am incredibly humbled and excited to be writing this year’s W.A.G.S. 4 Kids 2020 Vision Statement as your Executive Director. Everything about what we are striving toward is because of, thanks to, and for … you. It always has been and always will be. For the last several years we have been looking towards modernizing our systems – bringing to you, our community, the tools that you have been asking for to stay connected! This includes better tools for our families to guide them through the placement process, real-time information for trainers, and coming in 2020: new same-day information on the fundraising progress of our Kids In Need with updated peer-to-peer tools for optimal community engagement.
For years we have been striving for this moment. And I do mean we. Last year our amazing training team led by Lisa Schultz, Josh Allender, and Rodney Houghton, alongside our inmate trainers at Grafton and Mansfield Correctional Institutions, made a landmark 10 service dog placements. Why settle for good, when you can be great, right? That’s what my Papa always used to say! It’s always been our goal to get to a dozen dogs per year – one dog a month – and we can taste it. With the opportunity to go even deeper into the arms of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction programming in front of us, we look forward to sharing our next steps with you soon and hopefully starting a third training program later this year, opening up the opportunity for more dogs to help more kids.
We continue to elevate the unique and essential in-home transition training process to meet the needs of children facing the challenges of Mobility and Autism Spectrum Disorders. This singular attention to the details of successful service dog placements has defined our signature in customizing our services specifically to meet the needs that exist in each of our families' circumstances. The emails come in daily. I wish there was a way to help everyone. As I started writing this, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Founder Wendy asked me what I wanted to leave everyone with. My answer? “How do I leave everyone with a feeling?” I want them to feel what I feel: inspired by people like Jennifer Trebb who has offered up her Wednesdays to start shadowing Rodney at MANCI as our next Junior Trainer so she can bring W.A.G.S. 4 Kids to Zanesville and beyond, carving a path to expand our services to Southeast Ohio. I’m inspired by The Wolf Family who continue to lead our Transition Training team. I’m inspired by Michelle Rupanovic, who is leading the charge with our Kids Who Can! Program at CMSD Schools, First Step, St. Columbkille, Strongsville Middle School, and St. Ed’s, alongside Angela Kress at Dentzler Elementary, and more.
The experience of kindness and inclusion knows no bounds and I feel it every day from this community that I am so grateful to have known for so long. For as many years as W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has been around I have been lucky enough to be behind the scenes. So, while I may seem like a new face to you – you are not to me. There are old friends whose advice has made me and W.A.G.S. who we are today, and new friends and board members I can’t wait to introduce you to when they officially join us later this year. I have seen your generosity when we didn’t know how we were going to make it, I have gotten fat with you at our annual Mac ‘n’ Cheese Throwdown and other fun events, and I saw you celebrate with us when our kids got to see, hug, lean on, walk with and command their service dogs for the first time.
There are so many surprises we have in store for you in 2020 I cannot wait to reveal! One thing will never change – your interest and support are the keys to a whole world of opportunity for these children we serve. Together we will continue to place more dogs with more kids and help them live their most joyful lives. Together, we will support our vision of inclusion “always … in all ways.”