Wendy Crann (left) and Sera Nelson (right)
BEREA – Working Animals Giving Service for Kids’ (W.A.G.S. 4 Kids) Board of Directors announced April 1 that Wendy Crann, Executive Director, will retire from her position effective June 30 after co-founding the organization 16 years ago. Crann will be succeeded by Sera Nelson, currently the Director of Development and Special Events at W.A.G.S. 4 Kids.
Under Crann’s leadership, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has earned a regional reputation as a service provider for children with disabilities. In a 2014 report by CBS News, W.A.G.S. 4 Kids was highlighted as a program that “helps disabled children make the most out of their lives.”
Throughout Crann’s tenure, more than 90 service dogs have been placed throughout 22 counties around Northeast and Central Ohio. She has authored two training manuals: “Dogs Don’t Speak English” and “ Step By Step,” both of which have been used as curriculum for The Accredited Apprenticeship Service Dog Training Program for The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction at Grafton and Mansfield Correctional Institutions, and North Central Correctional Complex. Over 300 inmate trainers have been part of the program since W.A.G.S. 4 Kids’ partnership with the ODRC began in 2007.
“After more than 15 years since my founding of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, what stands out to me most is not what I have done, but rather what I have learned,” Crann reflects. “I have learned: One person can make a difference and that one person must; that every talent has value when used for the benefit of another; that the human spirit is one of ability, perseverance and courage that no disability can steal away; and that today is the day.”
In 2003 Crann, an animal trainer, along with her husband Ed Crann, a special education teacher, developed the idea of training service animals exclusively for special needs children. There were no other service dog programs for children available anywhere at the time. W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has been driven by belief in early intervention and is dedicated to working with a family to benefit a child up to age 18, as early as there is a need and interest. The hallmark “in home” transition training provided means these families do not have to leave their home for training and support. This sets W.A.G.S. 4 Kids apart from other organizations.
W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has had incredible success, no doubt due to Crann’s tenacity and passion for the mission, she is an unsung leader and role model in the industry. It is under her direction that W.A.G.S. 4 Kids has taken shape with a very specific agenda. The service dogs trained have met and will continue to meet the specific needs of children: to aide and assist; to involve and engage; to give opportunities for social interaction and emotional support; and ultimately, to bring joy.
“Sera and her team have the opportunity to take W.A.G.S. to places far beyond what I ever could have imaged or accomplished,” Crann said. “More dogs for more kids to help them live their most joyful lives! In our corner of the world, that is the measure.”
Nelson’s involvement with W.A.G.S. 4 Kids began in 2004 when she served as a founding trustee and board member for the organization. In 2012, she left the corporate world to devote a full-time effort to her niche in the non-profit sector. Nelson’s success in building relationships, as well as creating awareness and support as Director of Development, has statistically doubled W.A.G.S. 4 Kids’ paw print on the community and in the organization’s financial stability. In 2013, she created the W.A.G.S. 4 Kids Youth Empowerment Program, “Kids Who Can!” Through that program, relationships were built through 4-H clubs, The Boy Scouts of America, high school and middle school groups, and the nationally recognized “Magnified Giving” organization. All this teaches today’s youth the true lessons of philanthropy, creating opportunities to participate and do the things they love in a way that will lead to the betterment of another child who needs their help.
Nelson is most focused on keeping the family-founded organization true to its roots.
“I am very excited and feel honored to continue the legacy built by my family for the sole purpose of supporting and providing services to children with disabilities and their families in our community,” said Nelson. “I am proud to lead an exceptional team and organization that is deeply committed to transforming the lives of the children with mobility-restrictive and developmental challenges. I have personally witnessed the transformation that can take place in a child’s life through the love, partnership, sense of accomplishment and possibility provided by the custom task training of a service dog. The possibilities are truly endless. The type of hands-on training provided by the staff, the ongoing support and skills development for the children – it is empowering.”
Ultimately, the enduring goal of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids will remain placing more service dogs with the children who need them.
“Brace yourselves for the next chapter as we continue to groom the next generation of W.A.G.S. 4 Kids dogs, growing our paw print by 33% in the next 18-24 months,” Nelson said. “We will continue to branch out, providing more dogs to more kids who need us and our dedicated trainers will continue to deliver hands-on training like nowhere else in the nation. It is especially gratifying to know that inclusion continues to be the main event as we dig our roots deeper as the ‘charity that Cleveland grew,’ and expand our regional and national profile.”
W.A.G.S. 4 Kids is proud of the services they provide, and know the future is bright because of Crann’s leadership through the years and Nelson’s eagerness to grow the organization and branch out like never before.