Two fifth-graders from South Side Elementary got the chance to turn hard work into an act of giving, and it's been a learning experience they won't soon forget. Termarion Howard and Dequan Newell worked with adult mentors to build two solid, well-insulated, large doghouses for local outdoor dogs that needed protection from East Central Illinois' extreme temperatures and wind.
Said Termarion: "I was glad that I helped our community and gave dogs I care about a home."
The idea for the project sprang from a news article in this paper last November, written by reporter Tim Mitchell, about the work of Champaign County Humane Society's humane investigator, Clay Foley. Here's a link to the article . The story mentioned a community outreach effort Foley put in place several years ago to help area outdoor pets whose owners can't or won't supply adequate shelter or care. In addition to doghouses, the program dispenses free bags of pet food, collars, heated water bowls, and other necessary items.
Said Foley: "The law says pet owners have to provide shelter and basic care to their pets. Sometimes what owners supply their pets may fall within the standards of law, but it's not what I would wish for the animal. That was the impetus for CANOPY — Care and Assistance to Needy Outdoor Pets Year-Round."
South Side social worker Janice Bellington and her husband, Leal Elementary Principal Spencer Landsman, read the article and were impressed with the program. Bellington asked the fifth-graders if they would like to take on this community service goal as part of a larger personal goal-setting plan designed to enhance commitment to and confidence in their schoolwork.
"I thought this would be a great project for the boys for the community service component of their goal-setting — an opportunity to learn and to use power tools," she said.
Termarion and Dequan were excited to take on the project, so Bellington got in touch with Foley, who supplied her with blueprints for the doghouses. She talked to members of the South Side PTA about the project, and the organization generously paid for the building supplies. And Bellington put into place the adult mentorship that would help the boys to succeed in this worthy goal.
Landsman and a close friend, Stuart Graham of Urbana, enjoy serving their community and together share a personal goal of completing a service project every three months. Bellington asked them to work with Termarion and Dequan to build the two dog houses, and they agreed.
The men precut the wood and gathered the tools for the project before meeting with the fifth-graders at the school on a Saturday morning. Dequan's older brother, Champaign Central High freshman Devrick Newall, takes high school shop and volunteered to help the boys assemble the doghouses. Bellington and Landsman's son, Sean, who was visiting from Chicago that weekend, also volunteered to assist.
Said Bellington: "It was a long day, and they did an awesome job. They worked together on the first one — the boys did the drilling, and they got the frame together, and got the roof-shingle work done as well. And they painted it."
The second house went together more quickly.
"My son commented that the boys were super-focused, engaged and smiling all day. As we all were; it was fun. A pure pleasure!" Bellington said.
It was a big project, and both boys worked hard to get it done.
"Now I know I can do something right," Dequan said. "I have new confidence that will help motivate me to try new things."
Said Termarion: "I finally built something that was real, instead of just sitting around feeling bored."
Foley comes across animals that live outdoors year-round, all day and night, with little to no shelter from the summer heat or harsh cold of winter. He said Dequan and Termarion's contribution of two solidly built doghouses will make a big difference for these animals.
"It's easy to feel helpless sometimes if we see animals that are being neglected or receiving care that's less than what we give our own pets," he said. "But these two boys found a way to really help local animals that need it — and they're just fifth-grade boys."
And beyond helping the individual animals that will get the doghouses, the boys' donation to CANOPY supports Foley's community-building efforts.
"When I'm out in the community working with pets, I'm building relationships," Foley said. "Being able to provide a dog house or free bales of hay or bag of food — whatever is most needed — it lets pet owners know that CCHS really cares about their animals as much as they do."
Dequan and Termarion presented the doghouses to Foley at a school assembly. Foley had a chance to speak to the school children and gladly accepted the doghouses.
"It was a very special opportunity," he said. "It gave the boys a chance to show off their work to their peers and I think all of the kids learned something."
Foley said he appreciates that the humane society, with the support of its donors, has given him the flexibility and freedom to go beyond what most animal investigators do, to take a proactive approach to improving living conditions for area pets. He said in the past, doghouses have been built and donated to CANOPY by Lowe's and by local Eagle Scouts.
Foley said anyone interested in building a doghouse or donating needed pet care supplies is encouraged to contact him. Since financial support for the CANOPY program comes out of the humane society general budget, monetary donations may be made in support of all of the agency's comprehensive efforts to improve the lives of area companion animals.
To learn more about programs including CANOPY, or to make a donation, please go to http://www.cuhumane.org  or call 344-7297.
This column is dedicated to your pets in The News-Gazette circulation area. If you have a special pet story you'd like to share, please send an email to Siv Schwink at firstname.lastname@example.org . Schwink is a freelance writer and interpretive naturalist. She lives in the country with her three kids, a dog, three rabbits, a budgie and two ferrets.