Thursday, June 28, 2012

Aging Out of foster Care - In Her Own Words

Here is an article urging support for a California bill that will provide support services for teens in California who age out of foster care without finding a permanent home.  It is written by someone who lived through that situation and is worth a read.
Helping Foster Youths Until Age 21

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peace for Puppies attends Hand2Paw session

Hand2Paw was elated to welcome Peace for Puppies to our session last week, where they got to see the H2P kids and animals in action! We asked them if they'd guest write a blog about their experience.

Peace for Puppies is so grateful to Rachel Cohen and the Hand2Paw team for allowing us to come visit them at PAWS and see how the program works.  We met a few of the volunteers from Covenant House and watched them as they learned training techniques, bathing, medical check ups, giving medication, and of course, a whole lot of TLC!
What amazes Lizzie and I the most is that Rachel put this whole thing into motion.  For the teens who have lived in foster care without the constant love and guidance and for the animals who have not had love or safe homes, this is a natural and beautiful relationship.  It was a true honor to see it come together.

Everyone, human and animal, needs kindness and deserves a chance.  Thank you Rachel for giving them all this amazing opportunity to move forward in their lives.

Photo Credit: Ashley Smith (

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hand2Paw: The magic behind the scenes

My name is Amy Rossi, and I am currently involved with Hand2Paw public relations and blogging. I've been in daily contact with Hand2Paw founder, Rachel Cohen, an inspirational woman who tirelessly pursues her non-profit work even as a full-time college student at UPenn (not to mention her added responsibilities as a Resident Advisor and president of Penn Alternate Spring Break). Since the day Rachel informed me about Hand2Paw, I've been a major advocate for the program. An animal lover myself, I was thrilled to hear that a program like Hand2Paw existed in Philadelphia, a city with a major stray animal and homeless youth problem.

I'd met Rachel in person only once, and had heard so much about Hand2Paw, but I'd never witnessed it in person.

That changed yesterday.

As soon as we walked into Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), the first animal shelter Hand2Paw partnered with, Rachel efficiently organized training treats, unloaded bags of volunteer scrubs, and hung flyers on the wall announcing the partnerships between youths and PAWS shelter animals (known as "Pen Paws"). As youths made their way into the conference room, Rachel diligently handed out name tags and made introductions to some of the Hand2Paw players -- dog trainer, Tyanne McClain; Covenant House Rights of Passage Manager, Rob Zindell; Brittany Durphy, PAWS Kennel Attendant, and several others. 

Photo: Christopher L. Decker
The atmosphere was charged with energy as the youths prepared to tackle the day's tasks. As they donned their scrubs (generously donated to Hand2Paw by UPenn's Vet School), Rachel cheerfully coached them on the activities they could participate in. A couple volunteers went outside to work with professional trainers to teach dogs basic commands like sit, stay, and give a paw. The ground was muddy from a recent rainfall, but the youths didn't seem to notice; I saw them kneel down on the wet ground just to pat a dog on the head when he followed a command. Other volunteers gave dogs baths; one would comfort the dog while another would shampoo and rinse him. Teamwork and cooperation were evident the entire time. 

Photo: Christopher L. Decker
One of the more seasoned volunteers is now becoming a paid intern at PAWS through the Hand2Paw program. This cat connoisseur discovered his love for animals after volunteering with Hand2Paw for only a short time, and now he wants to pursue a career as a veterinary technician! "I never really had the opportunity to work with animals like this before," he said. "Other than having pets of my own, actually being able to be around animals like this has made me want to work with them."

It was wonderful to hear how Hand2Paw has literally changed his present and future life. And he's certainly genuine; when he didn't know anyone was looking, the tenderness he showed the cats he held was breathtaking. 

"If there's anyone who could sit there and say working with animals doesn't make them happy, there would have to be something wrong," he told me. "I can't specify one thing that I enjoy the most -- working with animals is all a great experience." 

Photo: Christopher L. Decker
Watching the youths hard at work was mesmerizing. I loved seeing their gentleness while holding the animals. Their smiling faces when a dog responded to their training techniques. Their laughter as they watched tiny kittens playing during "kitten holding" time. I had the opportunity to sit down with a few of them to get their feedback on Hand2Paw.

"I come from a shelter, so it makes me feel like I can relate to the animals," said one girl. "Animals are a lot like humans. They live, breathe, eat, and sleep just like us and they have emotions, too. They need just as much as we do."

Photo: Christopher L. Decker
Another volunteer, a young girl who was volunteering at PAWS for the first time through Project H.O.M.E., excitedly described her first day. "I think working with animals makes me relaxed. It's actually more comfortable working with animals than people, because animals don't yell at you," she said. "By coming here today, it shows that some dogs that I might see on the streets actually are really nice. I really didn't like pit bulls a lot, but I just worked with a pit bull and it was really cool." 

Volunteering at the shelter empowers these youths, gives them a sense of responsibility, and teaches them the true meaning of respect for animals. This is a message they'll bring back to their peers and eventually pass on to their children. The animals, who so desperately crave the affection of human beings, benefit deeply from this partnership as well.

Homeless youths and homeless animals, both in need of loyalty and comfort, are both receiving these things through Hand2Paw. After seeing the magic of Hand2Paw unfold before my eyes, I'm now even more convinced that the program is destined for major success. 

Photo: Christopher L. Decker

Want to help Hand2Paw reach even more youths and animals? Vote for Rachel in the Students in Service Award competition -- the 12 finalists will be announced on Friday so every vote is crucial!

Rachel, I know you've heard this before, but you are a hero, both to me and to the animals you help every day. You are selfless, compassionate, and sincere. I'm honored to be a part of this program, but most of all, I'm honored just to have met someone as kindhearted as you. Thank you for all you do.

Rachel Cohen, Founder/Director of Hand2Paw
Photo: Christopher L. Decker
Click here to see all the photos taken at yesterday's volunteer session at PAWS! All photos taken by Christopher L. Decker, Hand2Paw social media strategist and blogger for Get Socialnomical: It's Common Sense.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hand2Paw expands to PSPCA

Yesterday, Hand2Paw doubled in size by expanding to our second site, PSPCA in North Philadelphia.

The session was lead by Hand2Paw’s trainer, Carol Siegrist, who is now a private dog trainer but actually used to be the behaviorist at PSPCA! Needless to say, she is an expert on the facility and on the best practices for the animals.

Photo: Amy DiDomineco

The youths enjoyed a safety instruction orientation done by Carol while chowing down on pizza. Hand2Paw always tries to provide snacks as we have found that the youths are typically quite hungry that late in the afternoon, and we want them to be able to focus on the tasks at hand!

After the safety orientation and a brief overview of what PSPCA does, the youths were instructed on the practice of “barrier training,” which is a technique that is used to encourage shelter dogs to present well in their kennels to potential adopters.

Five of the six youths at this session were returners – one has even come nearly 15 times, so they are all very aware of how important it is that these dogs behave and present properly, so that they are most adoptable. The youths are some of these dogs' biggest fans – always asking if so-and-so got adopted yet – so their hearts were definitely in this exercise.

During barrier training, dogs are rewarded with a “click” and “treat” when they stand calmly and confidently by the opening of their kennel. The youths walked down the rows of the Greenhouse working with each and every dog.

Next, the youths worked on leash walking with several dogs upstairs in the auditorium. Dogs that pull on the leash or jump are less adoptable than those who walk calmly by your side, so the youths once again used clickers to reward dogs for proper leash walking behavior. Hand2Paw endorses only positive reinforcement training. Dogs that participate in our program are never scolded for bad behavior, only rewarded for good behavior. Our program aims to teach this positive method of training and interacting with animals to the youths, encouraging them to go back to their communities and teach their friends and peers these techniques!

Finally, the youths got a full tour of PSPCA, which included a trip back to the horse stables and a chat with the 
Humane Law Enforcement Officer, who told the youths about his training and what it would take for them to pursue a similar career!

It was all smiles at the end of the day – check out our proud future dog trainers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The inspiration behind Hand2Paw

Hand2Paw is just one program among many that has produced synergistic solutions by empowering disadvantaged individuals to take control of their futures. Here, we highlight two of our favorites, and encourage you to send us tips about others you find throughout the country and around the world! Programs like these are spreading like wildfire not only because they are mutually beneficial but also, in some cases, because they are vital to the wellbeing of their participants.

The original inspiration for Hand2Paw
, along with Back on My Feet (see below), was Puppies Behind Bars, a program that places Labrador puppies with inmates. This program empowers inmates to train these dogs to become service dogs for the disabled.

This program is incredible and benefits both parties. The inmates have all the time in the world to spend with the puppies, which provides them with the vital socialization and comprehensive training that they need. The inmates benefit by learning responsibility, patience, real skills, how to give and receive unconditional love, and how to work as a team.

Back on My Feet         

Founded in 2007 in Philadelphia
by a truly amazing woman named Anne Mahlum, this program promotes the self-sufficiency of the homeless population by encouraging them to run as a means to build confidence and achieve their goals. They have developed a comprehensive program that includes job connections, employment, and housing.

They now have chapters in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Chicago. Look how far they have come in only four years! Back on My Feet, you inspire us. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Welcome to the Hand2Paw blog!

It has certainly been an exciting month! The media coverage, volunteers, and support have been flooding in. If all goes as planned, we will be doubling Hand2Paw’s impact on February 7th when we expand to the PSPCA! Of course, we will continue to have frequent sessions at PAWS on Grays Ferry Ave, and are looking to develop even more structure and activities that will benefit the youth and the animals at their Wellness Clinic.

Photo: Amy DiDomenico

When I first drew out the faint sketch of this program, formerly known as the “Covenant House and PAWS Volunteer Initiative,” I never could have envisioned what Hand2Paw has become, complete with a logo, website, professional dog trainer, and internships. What began as a mere trial project has become a citywide organization that has the potential to reach hundreds of youth and thousands of animals over the next calendar year.  

Photo: Amy DiDomenico
Before Hand2Paw, back in 2009, I was putting together my thoughts on how to begin this program. I spent hours talking to a woman in Mendocino County, CA, who had started a program called the Dogs and Youth Job (DAY JOB) program. This program paid homeless youths for their work at a local animal shelter. She provided me with dozens of suggestions and insight into how to start my own program. The photos of her program were especially inspiring to me. I kept one photo as my computer background for months. It was a reminder of my goal: to create a similar program for Philadelphia’s homeless teens and shelter animals. This is that photo:

Photo: Abbey Kauffman

In November 2010, as I was looking through the photos I had taken at Hand2Paw sessions, I was struck by one in particular. By pure chance, I had snapped a photo of a Hand2Paw pair that was strikingly similar to the one from December 2009: 

Photo: Rachel Cohen

If this is what we can accomplish in one year, imagine what can happen in two? Five? Ten?! I am so excited about Hand2Paw’s future. This program is about to reach hundreds more youths and thousands more animals that deserve a chance to love and be loved.

Photo: Amy Didomineco

I welcome you to learn more and get involved! Supporters like you will keep our organization growing! Please explore our website, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and feel free to email us to learn more about how to contribute to our mission.

On behalf of Philadelphia’s homeless youths and shelter animals, I thank you. 

Rachel Cohen
Director, Hand2Paw: A Brighter Future for Homeless Teens and Shelter Animals