Jacqualyn’s Story – Pet Visits, You Can See the Difference

It takes all kinds to volunteer, to take time from our schedules and give back to others and try to make the world just a little bit better than when we woke up in the morning. In my time with Hands On Charlotte I’ve met volunteers from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes. However, furry and four legged was a first as I met Dixie the undisputed star of Pet Visits at White Oaks Manor. Dixie and her recently adopted Golden brother named Gabe are gorgeous Golden Retrievers owned by the straight talking Jacqualyn Levin, a Volunteer Leader for White Oaks since August 2015. She actually started volunteering for HOC in Feburary 2014. Jacqualyn is the mother of two very successful daughters and is an avid world traveler. Having visited a host of countries she’s an intelligent and well versed woman. Jacqualyn  explained the details of the White Oak Pet Visits: “It’s hard to get started for some people” she explained, “You go to White Oaks and it can be discouraging. The environment can be a bit depressing.” White Oaks is a skilled nursing facility for the elderly and adults with disabilities. Hands On Charlotte volunteers, along with their well behaved dogs, visit with the residents. It’s an often overlooked population and one in need of positive experiences. “You can see the difference it makes to them. They don’t get a lot of visitors so when we come with the dogs it means a lot.”

Pet Visits Star, Dixie

Jacqualyn explained that she also volunteers at Plantation Estates Assisted Living as well as the Food Bank but considers White Oaks her home project. “The relationship we have with the staff and residents is just great. They know us and we have developed a good relationship with them.” Dixie I’ve been told by numerous sources remains the belle of the ball at White Oaks. A friendly empathetic canine Dixie has learned what each particular resident wants most from a furry visitor.”She knows what to do” Jacqualyn tells me “One resident she just comes up real quick and puts her head and paws on her bed and gets a quick pet. With another it’s something else. Dixie has been doing this for over two years and is a natural.”

In terms of what motivates Jacqualyn to do this project it’s pretty simply explained “Dixie loves it. She gets excited when we turn the corner towards White Oaks. Of course I enjoy meeting all the volunteers and their dogs. I’m not stopping any time soon.” Dixie and Gabe are both rescues from Golden Retriever Rescue of Charlotte or GRRCC, which Jacqualyn is also active with. “GRRCC has a link to HOC on their facebook page in hopes that some Golden owners will see it and consider pet visits with HOC. What should be very appealing for dog owners is that the dogs do not need to be certified therapy dogs.  They just need to be friendly with other dogs and enjoy getting lots and lots of hugs and kisses.

  • Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.

Pet Visits – The Amazing Tale of How a Four-legged Buddy Can Make People So Happy

Hands On Charlotte began the Pet Visit program over ten years ago. We always enjoyed bingo and other games with seniors but knew those projects only involved a small percentage of the residents who were able to travel to the activity room. We heard about Pet Therapy and decided to give it a shot. We started at the Brian Center Reddman facility and now visit four other sites each month. Pet Visits allows HOC volunteers to interact with many more residents since we bring the pets to their rooms.

The following quotes better explain the impact of the program:

My facility has been very fortunate to have Hands on Charlotte volunteers visit our residents. The residents once had pets of their own miss them so much. They were a part of their lives just as yours are. The Pet Visit program has brought smiles and actually helped bring some of the residents here out of their depressions making it more like “home”. The animals have helped make their lives so much more fulfilled. We would like to thank you for all you have done. If you have ever seen their faces when they actually get to hold a dog or even just pet their heads, you would know how important it is in their lives.  Please help continue to bring such a beneficial program to the loved ones in our nursing homes and other facilities. It may seem small, but it is HUGE!! – Meg Pugh, Activity Director White Oak Manor

Here are some quotes from HOC Volunteers:

It was a great experience as always. I love seeing the residents faces light up when the dogs come to visit. – Monica, White Oak Manor Volunteer

Very rewarding to put smiles on peoples faces. Amazing how a four-legged buddy can make people so happy. – Chris, White Oak Manor Volunteer

What an amazing project! I had a great time with my dog and the residents. It was nice to make their day with a simple act of petting my dog. – Ally, Summit Place volunteer

Very interesting and fun activity for my family. We enjoy meeting all the friendly people here. – Rohini , Weddington Park volunteer

My daughter and I really enjoyed our time at the Brian Center. Our puppy Lola gave out many kisses and enjoyed the love of the residents. It was nice to meet them all and see their smiling faces. – LaShonda , Brian Center volunteer

Hands On Charlotte welcomes more volunteers to spread join at any of the five sites we currently visits. We would also love to add more sites. If you are interested in helping HOC expand the program contact dougm@handsoncharlotte.org.

Posted by Doug Macomb, Director of Programs at Hands On Charlotte.

Doug has been the volunteer leader at Pet Visits at White Oak Manor for over four years and is also one of the leaders for Pet Visits at Weddington Park in Matthews. His goal is for HOC to double the number of Pet Visits sites and volunteers over the next year.

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Gaining more by giving back

Summer has arrived, which for some means spending your weekend at the pool, taking a walk at Freedom Park, catching up with friends, enjoying a BBQ with the kids, or simply relaxing and savoring the few days off from work. For others, it means spending a few hours volunteering and giving back to the community to help make someone’s day.

 Hands on Charlotte is a non-profit volunteer organization that promotes volunteerism and direct community service to meet Charlotte’s most critical needs. They offer a variety of meaningful volunteer projects that benefit the citizens of Charlotte. Projects include Bingo, School Tutoring, Festivals, The BIG Project School Beautification, and my two favorites; Pet Visits at Summit Place and Special Rollers.

I have always been a huge advocate for Special Olympics and volunteering with people with developmental disabilities. I can still remember many memories dating back to High School so I was excited to learn about HOC’s Special Rollers project which is a bowling league for adults and teens with developmental disabilities.  Some athletes also have physical disabilities. I was assigned to two lanes with 8 eager bowlers and was responsible for helping enter names into the computer, collecting participation fees from bowlers, reading scores, but most importantly maintaining a fun, supportive, and encouraging environment for them. They say it’s the little things in life that mean the most and I have to agree with that as a simple high five or “good job!” made their day. I even found enjoyment out of them repeatedly telling me their final score to rub it in my face that they beat me! I will definitely improve my bowling game before I volunteer again!  Two hours in the morning on a Saturday was a great way to start to the day and it makes you feel good knowing in a short amount of time you made such an impact.

Another amazing project is Pet Visits at Summit Place, which is an Assisted Living and Alzheimer’s Residence in South Park. Volunteers bring their pets to visit with the residents of the facility. Visiting with animals can help people feel less lonely and makes it easier for two strangers to talk. I met a lot of amazing people at Summit Place but one 84 year-old man in particular named Frank was a pleasure to speak with. In the two hours we spoke, I learned that he was an alum at Southern Methodist University (Go Mustangs!), a former marine, he has 2 daughters and 1 son, was a former engineer and wrote a book called “6 Months and 1 Day” which was a compilation of his time at sea or what he called “sea stories.” What began as a simple “how’s your day going so far, would you like to say hi to my dog?” quickly led into a long conversation getting to know each other. I walked away from that project so happy to have met Frank and also sad at the same time as talking to him made me miss my Grandpa who had a similar background to him. I went into that project hoping to have a fun day with my dog and the residents and I ended up learning more about a stranger and what his journey in life has been.

Whether you like beautifying a school by planting flowers and raking leaves, helping senior citizens during Bingo or decorating crowns at a New Year’s Eve event, there are so many wonderful volunteer opportunities  through Hands on Charlotte. What is your most memorable volunteer moment?

Ally Oelerich

Charlotte Center City Partners/HOC Volunteer