There are times when an organization forms to fulfill a need in the community and then there are times when a need seeks out an organization. For years, Sunshine Friends, Inc. has been bringing love, friendship and wellness to patients, children and the elderly in Central New York.
Our therapy pets and their handlers have been visiting hospitals, schools and assisted living communities to bring the healing power of pet assisted wellness services to the ill and the infirmed. Our organization has thrived in this role, with all involved reporting the emotional benefits from both giving and receiving this outreach. Within the past year, however, a new community need has developed that has sought out SFI to fulfill a new purpose and bring some needed sunshine to a new segment of our local population.
We have long known that the loving nature of animals can help bring happiness and reduce feelings of loneliness, and we have also known that animals help to calm our nerves, reduce stress, and ease tension. These benefits of human-animal interaction have been the motivators for universities and colleges to reach out to SFI and ask for outreach from our pet volunteers for their students during exam weeks. In the month of April, SFI attended two de-stress events in Central New York, one at Syracuse University, and one at Oswego College. The purpose of both events was to encourage students to take a much-needed break from the stress and frustration of studying for exams to ensure that they are taking care of themselves emotionally and physically with activities that reduce stress and ease tension.
These two events are the latest in several requests that SFI has received from Syracuse University and Oswego College for attendance at student events. With the University and College being pleased with the overwhelming response and attendance from students, these events have slowly become recurring programs of which SFI has been a frequent participant; and SFI has a growing branch of service to proudly develop in return.
SFI Volunteer Pam Getek and her dog Sophie, attended the De-Stress Event at Syracuse University for the second year in a row.
“The students were very excited to see the dogs and many of them were showing me pictures of their pets and telling me how much they miss them. Being able to visit with our dogs meant a lot to them” says Pam. “Many of the students at Syracuse University have left beloved pets back at home. For these students, a few minutes with Sophie provides the type of pet interaction that they sorely miss while away at school.”
Students at Oswego College were equally thrilled to spend some relaxing quality time with our SFI volunteers and take a much-needed break from the stress of exams as well.
“Our pets make us laugh and love us no matter what else is going on in our lives.” said volunteer Susan Vaughn. “They are a constant source of comfort when we are around them. College is stressful and being away from the comforts of home makes it harder. To have a dog or cat to hug, pet, kiss or hold for even a few minutes seems to ease stress and make people smile, whether they are young or old.” Vaughn and her dog Bert frequently visit the elderly in an Assisted Living Community. According to Vaughn, for Bert, it does not matter who he his visiting. His interaction with those he visits is always the same.
“When I take Bert to our other visits at a local nursing home, we get the same reaction from those residents that we got from the college students – smiles, touches, petting, baby-talk, even a few tears once in a while. Dogs bring out emotions and break down walls that other techniques can’t do.”
Oswego College was so pleased with their students’ interaction with our SFI pet volunteers after our first event together, that the one-time event quickly became a monthly recurring dorm-to-dorm visit with a team of SFI volunteers. After all, anyone who has lived the life of a college student knows that the stress of higher-education does not only culminate once a semester during final exam week.
As SFI continues to grow, our organization continues to learn new ways to make an impact in the community we serve, redefining our service model, but always with the same goal of bringing a little bit of light to those who need it most.