At the heart of Hand in Paw is our wonderful volunteers. HIP volunteers have adapted, adjusted, supported, been a shoulder to lean on, and never given up on our mission! They continued to help the most vulnerable in our community through meaningful work in a virtual world. The coronavirus pandemic kept us at home, but it did not stop our Animal Assisted Therapy Teams from making a positive impact on our community! While most AAT visits across the nation stopped- Hand in Paw volunteers persevered.
One volunteer Therapy Team in particular overcame enormous barriers to connect with students and teachers that needed creative support. Lanette Steadman and Ginger adapted their visits from hands on in a classroom to an interactive virtual experience that allowed students to connect socially and emotionally in addition to academically. Lanette’s high level of collaboration with HIP staff and special education teachers created a dynamic learning environment for classrooms. Lanette envisioned an interactive sensory activity mat for the students to use in place of Ginger’s activity vest. Super star Therapy Team, Stephanie Stoltzner and Olive, put their sewing skills to work and brought Lanette’s vision to life by creating activity mats for students.
This year, we honor Leighann Stratton of Tuscaloosa as Visit Assistant of the Year. Leighann began her tenure at HIP in 2019 with her beloved June (“June Bug”). They visited nursing home clients and students at the West Alabama Boys and Girls Club. Sadly, June passed away several months after they became a HIP team. Through her grief, Leighann continued to assist our Tuscaloosa teams as a Visit Assistant. A Speech Pathologist by trade, she helped the Volunteer and Programs Department with resources on virtual learning and conferencing tools in the beginning months of COVID. Leighann recently became a HIP TeleHIP Team with her new pup, Eddie (who we now call “Eddie-Boo”). Even in the toughest of times, Leighann is always smiling and exuding a positive and can-do attitude. We are thankful for her commitment and enthusiasm for HIP’s mission and excited to see Leighann and Eddie shine in virtual visits!