This guest post is the first in a two-part series by Erin Ellis, Community Engagement Director of Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe (HSTT) about their youth volunteer program and the impact it’s had since its inception in 2008.
At the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe (HSTT), we have always strived to have a very inclusive volunteer program. We know that we can find the perfect role for anyone interested in lending a hand to our organization.
In 2008 we decided to lower the minimum age for volunteers to eight years old to include even more of our community and broaden our educational reach. At that time, youth volunteering at animal shelters was practically unheard of, but we knew it could be done. Education has always played a significant role in HSTT’s mission and what better way to educate the community than by allowing young kids to learn about animal shelters in a safe, hands-on fashion? The reality is youth will someday grow into adults… adults that make decisions. If we can influence decisions that make a positive impact on animal welfare, we’ve done our job. Whether it means they choose to adopt, take on a career in education or animal welfare, have their pet spayed or neutered, or simply have the knowledge of how a shelter actually operates, we are grateful for the opportunity to teach.
Removing schedules for shelter volunteers and lowering the age of volunteers made a big difference for us. If the idea is to involve more people (for the long run), then volunteering has to be more accessible for community members. In 2022, nearly 40% of our volunteers are under 18 years of age. Taking a step back and making a change that you won’t see immediate results can be difficult but totally worth it. Kids in our community are growing up with good animal knowledge. When I first started I just felt like a hamster in a wheel, doing the same thing every day with the same level of frustration and not making the change I was hoping for. Change is always scary and hard, but when we step out of our comfort zone and do something different, that’s when real progress can be made.
Kids have been a part of HSTT’s volunteer program for nearly 15 years. All of the youth that started with us back in 2008 are now adults. So we reached out to find out how their experience here as a volunteer has helped shape who they are today and the impact we had on them when it comes to pets.
Aldana Fernandez was one of the very first youth to go through our volunteer program in 2008. Like so many kids at that age, she wanted to grow up and work with animals. Little did she know at the time, that her passion and what she learned at HSTT, would take her on a journey to find her purpose and career. Here’s what Aldana had to say:
“Throughout my years volunteering with HSTT, I got the opportunity to meet so many incredible animals, and see them find their forever homes. I was able to foster animals, help with events, and even adopted my first cat from HSTT in 2014. When I think back on my time volunteering, I have so many great memories. As life moved forward and I entered college, I knew I wanted to do something with pets. At first, I wanted to be a vet, but quickly realized I wanted to be more hands-on with animals. What I really wanted to do was play a role in helping them find their forever home. During college, I took any job that would let me work with animals. I worked in doggie daycares, animal boarding, dog training, and even as a dog groomer. In July 2021 I started my new career as an animal caretaker with the Town of Truckee Animal Services. Eleven years later, I came back to the place that let me first work with animals. Now being able to care for them every day, train with them and see them get reunited with their families or find their new forever homes, gives me purpose and fills me with happiness and joy. The younger me would be excited and happy to see what I am doing every day, what I have learned, and what the future has to hold.”