Lending a hand or a paw | VailDaily.com

Lending a hand or a paw

Rosanna TurnerDaily CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado

Special to the Daily

To volunteer in the Vail Valley, some organizations don’t even require that you be human. Even dogs have the opportunity to give back. In Part 2 of our series on volunteer opportunities, here’s a look at some other places in our community in need of people, businesses and, yes, dogs. (Visit http://www.vaildaily.com to read the first story in this two-part series.)

Sally Clair and Blondie Vucich co-founded Vail Pet Partners in 2005 after being exposed to the benefits of dog therapy. They now have 24 teams that make weekly trips to the Vail Valley Medical Center and Jack’s Place (a cancer care center in Edwards) to visit with both patients and hospital staff. Pet Partners also has a “Wagging Tales” program in which kids at local schools get a chance to read to the dogs. Clair said that a dog’s presence helps to aid in the healing process and improve kids’ reading skills.Cathy Vito and Gracie, her Jack Russell terrier, have been volunteering with Vail Pet Partners since 2008. Vito said that dog visits not only put smiles on patients’ faces but also make it easier for volunteers to get to know them.”Interacting with the dogs brings people out of their shell a lot,” Vito said. “They’ll talk about things they normally wouldn’t talk about.”But so many weekly visits can tire a dog out. That’s why Vail Pet Partners is always in need of more teams to help with the visitations. The program is looking for well-behaved canines and “anyone who loves dogs and wants to be a part of this,” Clair said.”Just to pet a dog, it’s amazing what it does.” Clair said. “The rewarding part is to see the response and the joy that it brings to the people that you visit.”

Hospice not only helps those who are dying; it helps them die with dignity. HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley seeks to support both patients and their families in the dying process. Volunteers provide respite care and help patients with a variety of needs, such as running errands. Volunteer coordinator Ruth Walker said that HomeCare & Hospice mainly focuses on palliative care.”We’re not trying to treat or cure an illness; we’re managing pain for the patient,” Walker said.The program needs volunteers who are interested in patient care and want to educate themselves about what happens in the last stage of life.”What’s most important is that a person feels drawn to learning more about the process of death and dying and has a desire to help people,” Walker said.Walker describes hospice volunteers as being akin to doulas during childbirth, only now they are assisting in the dying process.”We are like midwives for helping people with the end of life,” Walker said.Hospice volunteers also aid those dealing with the loss of a family member.”Death is such a taboo topic in our culture,” Walker said. “Hospice workers can really help families look at this situation realistically and approach the death of their loved ones.”

While it’s typical for many local high school students to head off to college after graduation, this isn’t the best option for everyone. SWAP (the School to Work Alliance Program) helps young people ages 16 to 25 find employment opportunities and transition from school to the work force. Patti Kravitz has been the program coordinator for SWAP since it started in Eagle County two years ago. Kravitz counsels young adults and helps them develop the skills necessary for entry-level employment.”I provide them the tools for the tool box of life so that they can reach their goals,” Kravitz said.With an increasingly competitive job market, students need all the assistance they can get to find permanent jobs. Kravitz pointed out that a college degree is no longer an automatic ticket to the employment gravy train. “A lot of kids go to college and they don’t really know what they want to do; it’s status quo, it’s society, ” Kravitz said. “I ask them the hard questions. When I approach them like this, the kids are very honest with me. If they’re thinking of taking out grants and loans (for college), I say to them, ‘You realize you have to pay back these student loans; there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be given a job?'”While SWAP is doing everything it can to get those in the program gainfully employed, it relies on local businesses for actual job offers. Since the program started, Kravitz has had some success. She enjoys seeing the young adults she works with employed and happy. This summer, the program has a few young people seeking work in the computer, hospitality and culinary fields. She also is assisting a client with an “outgoing, great personality” who has trouble finding a job due to the fact that he is in a wheelchair. Kravitz is trying to get the word out about SWAP and how it benefits both young people and local businesses in our community.”I’m looking for businesses to reach out to our youth,” Kravitz said. “These young adults are eager and wanting to learn. … They want to work.”Rosanna Turner is a freelance writer based in Vail. Email comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com