YAP Successfully Launches at Connecticut Charter School

The launch of YAP™, the Youth Ambassador K9 Career Program, took place at the Jumoke Academy Honors Middle School in Hartford, CT, in September 2012, for grades 6-8 under the direction of science teacher Lauren Haggerty, with guidance from Dean of Students and Enrichment Amy Beardsworth. Designed to introduce children and teens to careers and volunteer opportunities in the field of working dogs, YAP is part of Finding One Another: Courage Beyond Measure™, which honors the canine teams who worked at 9/11. The Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation is underwriting implementation of the program at Jumoke Academy.

On September 21, 2012, a K9 handler from the Ramapo Rescue Dog Association in New Jersey visited the school. Nancy Brooks, who worked during 9/11 with her dog, was the first speaker and presented an introduction to the field of working dogs. Afterwards the entire student body of 150 middle schoolers, plus their parents and siblings, had a chance to meet and greet Nancy and her K9 partner, Chief, as well as Linda Blick, co-founder of Finding One Another and its parent organization, Tails of Hope Foundation, Inc.

“We’re thrilled to have YAP as one of our enrichment programs here at Jumoke,” said Beardsworth, whose school is located in an impoverished inner-city area. “We’re working with 10 students initially, all of whom are incredibly excited about the opportunity to meet with the handlers and dogs.” Jumoke Academy has a 45-minute enrichment time at the end of each day, during which students choose a subject of interest to pursue. The YAP time includes direct instruction in the variety of careers involving working dogs, as well as visits from local K9 teams. There will be customized segments on animal welfare and child abuse, a serious community problem, including features on court assistive dogs that help children during testimony in abuse cases.

“Jumoke Academy is an approved science and technology school, so we created 27 new YAP programs to meet the school’s math and science needs,” according to Blick. “There will be features on search and rescue, military and law enforcement K9s, etc.” One of the new programs to be featured involves aviation, animal rescue, and rescued dogs who are trained to become working dogs. In April 2013, YAP will present a large assembly at the school, sponsored by and including representatives of the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Foundation. Many K9 teams have been invited to participate, as well as retired NBA Hall of Famer Mel Davis and Joan Roche, Director of Entertainment and Player Marketing for the NBA.

YAP was brought to Beardsworth’s attention by her friend Erin Wenzler, Director of Volunteers for Finding One Another. “When Finding One Another partnered with the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Foundation to bring at-risk children together with the working dog field, I knew Jumoke would be a perfect fit for both organizations,” said Wenzler. “I’m familiar with both the school and Amy Beardsworth’s love of dogs, so I knew we would have the administrative support necessary for a ground-breaking program like this.”

The Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation was begun by Rosemarie D’Alessandro and honors the memory of her daughter, Joan D’Alessandro, a seven-year-old from Hillsdale, NJ, who was delivering Girl Scout cookies when she was murdered by a neighbor in 1973. A law enforcement K9 led police to Joan’s killer. The Foundation promotes child safety and protection, victims’ rights, and help for homeless and neglected youth.

“Supporting YAP at Jumoke is a great way to honor Joan, because she loved dogs,” said Rosemarie D’Alessandro recently. “She always wanted to walk dogs, she slept with stuffed dogs. She would have loved service dogs.”

YAP’s first school launch took place in February 2012, at the Alfred G. Waters Middle School in Middletown, DE, during Future Farmers of America (FFA) Week. Nearly 900 students in grades 6-8 were in attendance at an assembly where handlers took their dogs through their paces and explained their work. Sixteen working dog teams from the search and rescue field, FEMA, the Army, and the Delaware State Police, participated. David Kontny from the Department of Homeland Security and Dr. Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, founder of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center and National Co-Chair for Finding One Another, also spoke.

Representatives of YAP have been discussing its work and the work done by the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Foundation with many organizations, including the American Kennel Club (AKC). One of the group’s goals is to secure joint grants that will further benefit and advance the shared missions of protecting children and animals.

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