The first blog post is always the hardest one for me, because I’m never sure how much space to dedicate to providing background information vs. just diving right into our topic. I’m hoping to strike a good balance here.
My name is Michael Garrity, and I’m currently the Program Coordinator in the recently created (and thus still rapidly evolving) Community Programs Department at The Anti-Cruelty Society, an animal welfare organization and full-service shelter located in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago. We’re also the SPCA of of Illinois. That’s the basic spiel, but if you’re interested in learning more about our organization, you can visit our website, www.anticruelty.org.
The Community Programs Department is an amalgamation of the Society’s Volunteer Services and Humane Education departments, united by our common goal to both educate and engage the Chicagoland community on the work that we do and how they can help make a difference in the lives of pets and people. It’s really a natural pairing that combines the resources, knowledge, and manpower of our huge dedicated corps of volunteers (currently over 550 strong, and always growing) with our preexisting humane education and community outreach programs. And by creating a brand new department, we are granted a level of flexibility that allows us to develop fresh, original programs or add a whole new spin to those that have been around for years.
This blog will be a place to document the growth of our department and share our successes and failures with whatever audience we gather along the way, and hopefully we can become something of a resource to people doing similar work at shelters and animal welfare organizations. And so I’ve determined that the best place to start is to give a quick rundown of all the things we’re going to be working on this summer, as well as a sneak peek at some of the ideas that we’ve been kicking around since our initial department brainstorming meeting.
For our Humane Education Specialists, a lot of the summer will be spent all around Chicago doing educational programs for the day campers at various Chicago Park District locations. Our Volunteer Services Coordinator will also be out and about a lot leading staff, volunteers, and dogs on at least 4 (and hopefully more) Puppy Parades to various partner destinations around the River North neighborhood. Keep an eye on our social media channels (which are linked to in the widget menu above) to find out about upcoming parades and follow us while we’re en route.
Probably the biggest program that we’ll be working on this summer will be a collaborative grant that we received in partnership with Project Exploration, Chicago Botanic Garden, and Chicago Public Library/YOUmedia. The project, funded through Hive Chicago, allows us to set up youth-led badging stations at the Society, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and at least 4 CPL locations around the city. (The topic of badging is dense and complex and could probably be the subject of a multi-part series of posts on its own, but to get an idea of what it’s all about, check out the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) website.) We will be hiring teens that have had experience with at least one of the partner organizations and that have received a badge through CCOL. Orientation for this program will held here on Wednesday, July 8.
Hive also approved us for a second grant that will fund the planning sessions of a new program called “Athletes Practice with Compassion,” that we are going to create alongside the Chicago Park District. The idea is basically to capitalize on the increased media attention that has been focused on professional athletes involved in incidents of domestic violence and create educational opportunities focused on empathy and respect (the basis of all humane education) with recreational sports programs held at the parks that are geared toward people ages 6-12. In the end, we hope to develop materials that can be shared with athletic programs all around the country.
That’s going to take up a lot of our summer, but we’re always working to develop new in-house educational programs, working on setting up a volunteer program for people under 18 called the “Shelter Support Squad” that we hope to have launched by the start of the next school year, improving our one-off Group Volunteer Program, and in the beginning stages of ramping up our spay/neuter outreach, working on resources that will allow people to re-home their pets on their own without having to bring them to a shelter, starting a continuing education lecture series, developing a dog park workshop, and much more.
We’ll do our best to update this blog on as close to a weekly basis as we can manage. Feel free to visit often to follow the exciting developments! I promise the posts won’t usually be as long as this one.