Every Tuesday, you’ll find a 20-year-old woman named Annie at Anderson Humane’s South Elgin shelter,
sweeping the floor or cutting up hot dogs for the animals awaiting adoption. These are typical tasks for our volunteers, but Annie is a part of a unique new group volunteering with us.
Annie and a handful of other students are participants in St. Charles School District 303’s transition services, designed to help 18- to 22-year-olds who need guided assistance to independent living. Many of them are on the Autism Spectrum, including Annie. Volunteering at our shelter gives them valuable workplace experience.
“I love volunteering here. It makes me feel like I’m growing in the community,”
“I get to help the animals and make sure they can get a home,” said Annie, explaining why this volunteer work is important to her. School district job coaches, who accompany the students, help them understand that doing mundane tasks – such as cleaning the animals’ transport crates – helps the animals stay healthy, and eventually get adopted.
“The goal is to get them as independent and involved in the community as possible,” said Jackie Nilles, a Work-Based Learning Specialist for the program. That includes training in showing up for a job, clocking in and out, doing assigned tasks – all of which they get at our shelter.
When the students complete their tasks for the day, they earn time interacting with the cats or dogs. For Nico, another volunteer with the program, this is the best part. The 19-year-old is quick to explain that his mother is allergic to cats, so they can’t have one at home. “I want a cat when I get a house and a girlfriend,” he said, adding that he’ll get a Siamese. Until then, he gets his cat fix at the shelter.
Nico also likes encouraging the injured or sick animals being treated by the wildlife team. “I tell them, ‘Don’t look so miserable, little guys. We’ll get you better and out and about in no time.’”
This connection with the animals is unique among the other places where the District 303 students volunteer. “We almost always hear stories of who got adopted,” said Jackie, adding that the students are excited whenever another animal gets a home. “The kids love coming here,” said Yvette Harding, Annie’s job coach. “They’re so proud to put on their Anderson Humane t-shirt.”
“It goes back to our mission of creating connections,” said Karen Kuramitsu, Director of Volunteer Engagement for Anderson Humane. She called the new partnership with the District 303 students a win-win and said she’s enjoyed watching the students grow over their months of volunteering, becoming more comfortable in this new environment, getting into the routine of clocking in and out, providing valuable assistance to the shelter. “This is living out our core principles: respect, protect, and connect.”
“I love volunteering here. It makes me feel like I’m growing in the community,” Annie said. She also likes the impact she’s making. Asked how she feels about being part of the process of animals in need finding loving homes, her whole face breaks into a smile. “Really cool.”