As of this morning, The Anti-Cruelty Society was featured on the official Chicago City of Learning blog, highlighting our Youth-Led Badging program and Exploring “The Link,” our anti-violence after school program. The blog post features interviews with our Manager of Humane Education (and the person leading the way in the Youth-Led Badging initiative), Elliott Serrano, as well as Oksana, one of the Digital Badging Specialists participating in the program. You can find the blog post by simply clicking this link.
Once in a while, we have an event taking place that is so big it requires the assistance of not only an entire shift’s worth of shelter staff members, but also other personnel from around the organization. This past Saturday (August 15), we had just such an event.
As part of the company’s “Making a Difference” philanthropy campaign, the media juggernauts at NBC Universal hosted a nation-wide adoption event called Clear the Shelters, covering over 10 of their major markets around the country (and in Puerto Rico). The general gist of this program was that participating shelters in each metro area would waive their adoption fees for any animal 5 months or older between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. In return, NBC would vigorously promote the event on all of its local affiliates (ours of course being NBC 5 Chicago).
Tons of TV time and the promise of free animals meant that we were swamped with people even in our adoption lobby waiting area before we were even officially opened for business that morning. It did not let up until we stopped even handing out adoption applications at 4:30 that afternoon. We held a similar event last summer over the course of two days, so there was some precedent and experience to pull from, and the main thing the organization as a whole learned from it was that we needed way more people than we normally have scheduled to man the shelter when dealing with so many customers and adoption transactions.
That’s why the Community Programs Department was called in to help. The 6 of us were split up into different roles in the shelter to support the regularly scheduled staff members and copious volunteers that were recruited to perform their normal duties on this otherwise abnormal day. Elliott helped with adoption counseling (sort of a post-interview with approved adopters where the staff member goes over an animal’s medical history, unique needs, and available services before the person leaves with his or her new pet) and handled media (NBC Universal owns the Spanish-language channel Telemundo, which was also covering the event, and Elliott is fluent in both Español and media poise). Sarah and Mary worked in the dog adopts room and helped potential adopters meet our furry residents and guide them into the adoption matching process. Stephanie worked in the cat adopts room, and also oversaw our display of cats from the Adoption Ambassadors program that were brought in by their loving foster parents to get a chance to be seen and heard at this exciting event. Lydia and myself weren’t scheduled for anything in particular and kind of floated around helping where we were needed, but eventually (as things started to get backed up), we were called on to help with adoption counseling and ended up doing that for the majority of the day.
It may sound corny, but days like Clear the Shelters are important in affirming why we all got into this zany (to put it delicately) industry. Seeing so many wonderful animals finally find loving homes with kind people and excited children is obviously the main motivator for this line of work, but these events are also important for bringing the many disparate departments from around our huge organization closer together, allowing employees to work directly with colleagues that they otherwise may only see in passing on a day-to-day basis. More than any other sort of team-building activity, these high stress, high stakes, all-hands-on-deck events are the best way to create a sense of camaraderie and understanding amongst a staff.
Sure, with so many tiny moving parts and nearly 100 people working at such a high volume and frenetic pace, there are the occasional mistakes or oversights that happen, but things were well-run from the top down and any issues that did arise were minimized immediately. The general feedback and buzz surrounding Clear the Shelters (at least as it relates to us at The Anti-Cruelty Society) was overwhelmingly positive. And now we have a whole year to prepare to do it again!
Hi, my name is Stephanie Bruno, and I am the Coordinator of Volunteer Services at The Anti-Cruelty Society. My hobbies include painting, hiking, and going to the dog beach. Most of all, I enjoy just spending time with my husband, our three cats, and two dogs (a pair of lovable Chow Chows). What I love most about working for The Anti-Cruelty Society is that when I leave for work and have to see the sad looks my pets give me, I know that I am going to help find animals like themselves find their loving forever homes.
As the Community Programs Coordinator, most of my work done from the comfort and convenience of my desk and computer. This is contrasted with my co-workers in the Humane Education Department, who frequently go off-site to run programs at local schools, libraries, or even juvenile correctional facilities.
Business really picks up during the summertime. As early as February each year, we start getting calls from Chicago Park District directors looking to book our Humane Education Specialists to come out to their parks and present in front of groups of children ages 6-12 that attend their annual summer camps. Being in the middle of summer break, July is obviously the busiest month for these camps, and as a result, our busiest month of the year. We actually received so many requests this year that at least one of our educators will be off-site every (working) day this month.
When we were short-staffed last summer (meaning the department solely consisted of myself, Elliott, and 5 high school-aged interns from After School Matters), I did get a few chances to go to off-site to run programs at these summer camps. At that time, I was pretty much completely uninitiated to running programs, and while it’s still not something that I do with any regularity these days, I have slowly become more accustomed to it. However, unlike our tireless Humane Education Specialists – who are the ones that have been traveling around the city and running programs in front of as much as 180 kids each day – I have a lot more leeway in terms of the groups and programs that I work with (for the most part).
This past Thursday, all three educators were originally scheduled to go to Olympia Park on the far north side of the city to present for approximately 150 campers of various ages. A last minute change meant that Elliott could not attend because he had to go to the July Hive Chicago meetup to represent not only The Anti-Cruelty Society, but also our partners in the Youth-Led Badging grant (since our organization is the lead on the project). Thinking that the counselors would split up their different groups of campers so that we could run multiple programs concurrently, I offered to go with Sarah and Mary to keep things moving smoothly and efficiently.
Turns out that the way that the camp had scheduled the kids to see us made it so that my presence there was superfluous. Instead of having groups in different locations around the park, they had our educators in a room in the field house and groups (usually more than one at a time) scheduled in 45-minute blocks that would rotate in to play games and see our presentations. (Note: This is not all that uncommon and not something that is any sort of problem for us; it’s simply different than the setup we were expecting before we arrived.)
So while I certainly wasn’t as helpful to Sarah and Mary as I had intended to be when I offered to attend, it was still nice to get out of the office for a few hours and see the great work that the educators have been doing all summer in person, as well as play with puppets and interact with some kids, which is ultimately what the job is all about (the kids, not the puppets, though it’s arguable I guess).
What I found to be the most interesting was how our educators take drastically different approaches to presenting for a group of kids that are 6-7 and those that are just a little older, like 10-11. Obviously, the developmental differences between these age groups requires significantly altered approaches to connect to the kids and ensure that they take something valuable away from the lesson, but what impressed me most was the way that both Sarah and Mary were and are able to spend just a few minutes gathering their bearings between groups and then run a completely different presentation with a new style without really even thinking about it. They simply assess the group (size, temperament, etc.) within the first few minutes of them entering the room and decide how the program will go for the next 40 minutes.
For instance, the first audience was a big combination of at least two groups of girls ages probably 6-8. Obviously capturing the attention of 40+ kids requires a certain talent, and Sarah and Mary did a great job of engaging the group in a game of Facts of Five before we ended by doing “safe” animal introductions with the two puppets that we brought (my main role throughout the day was acting as a handler for the safe dogs, Nifter and Lucky). Despite how many kids there were, things went well, especially when compared to the next group, which was a much smaller (under 20) collection of 10-11 year old boys.
From the moment they entered the room, this group was already much rowdier than the previous one, so it was decided that the focus of this presentation was going to be the Facts of Five game, and that we wouldn’t be doing the puppet interactions because (A) the group was already hard enough to control while they were sitting on the floor, let alone standing up and walking around the room, and (B) these boys were not going to be impressed by our puppets. (To be fair to the educators here, they were working against a stacked deck from the beginning, as this particular group’s counselors were the definition of unhelpful. During pretty much the entire first half of the presentation, the counselors sat at the table about 4 feet away from their kids on the floor and talked loudly over the educators, which is obviously going to indicate to the kids that they don’t have to take the program seriously.)
So that presentation was obviously more focused on just harnessing the energy of those boys and playing into the competitive aspect of the game (and things certainly got competitive). It took a very different skill set for Sarah and Mary to control the room, and even though the group was significantly smaller, they seemed to require a lot more energy. Luckily, that was that hardest it got for the day. The next group was about 40 more young boys (ages 6-8), and the educators decided to switch it up (probably for their own sanity, at some level) and not play Facts of Five with this group. Instead, this presentation was puppet-centric and had the kids interacting with Nifter (who was speaking through Sarah, his handler) and helping him go through his bag of toys, treats, and necessary accessories to learn more about proper pet care and the things that every pet owner should have to give his or her dog a good life.
The final group was a mix of boys and girls between 9 and 11 years of age, so it was back to the game and once again the puppets did not make an appearance. However, the biggest difference between this and the second group was that the two counselors (as opposed to the four earlier) were much more engaged and helpful, correcting the behavior of kids that were acting out, participating in the program by answering and asking questions, and generally just making sure that the kids were paying attention and not just checked out for the duration of the presentation. This highlights yet another important factor that determines the success of a program: the quality of the group’s teachers/counselors/supervisors. We had another example of this the following Friday (July 17), when a group of kids from a local community center came in for a program in our on-site auditorium. Their supervisors were totally no-nonsense, and while they were by no means rude or aggressive with their kids, they also weren’t putting up with any of their attempts to distract or take away from the presentation and tour. The result was a very successful program that all of the kids seemed to enjoy and learn from.
Personally, this was a great opportunity for me to remind myself of how much hard work our Humane Education Specialists put in to pulling off these programs, and how incredibly talented they all are to be able to do this every day.
Throughout the course of writing this blog and documenting our department’s adventures, you’ll notice a few names that come up over and over again. After all, we are a small group of just 6 people. To help familiarize our readership with the team, we’ll be giving each person a chance to write a bit about themselves. So what better place to start than with the person trying to organize all of this chaos?
Lydia Krupinski is the Director of Community Programs for the Society, overseeing our Humane Education and Volunteer Services teams. When she’s not knee deep in foster puppies, paperwork, or program development, Lydia can be found riding her vintage yellow steed around Chicago, snuggling her three fur babies, or taking long walks by the lakefront with her husband and their baby boy.
Well, I guess I’ve already failed to maintain a weekly posting schedule, thanks primarily to last week being a short one because of the Fourth of July and taking a day out of the office to walk with the Society in the Chicago Pride Parade. One thing that makes working in our particular department fun and interesting is that we all get many opportunities to participate in a wide variety of events and programs, which can include marching in a parade, accompanying Canine Good Citizen volunteers to help provide stress relief to hospital employees, or hosting an informational booth among the lions, tigers, and bears at the Brookfield Zoo.
And sometimes, you get to launch a whole new city-spanning program (with the help of a generous grand from Hive Chicago). That’s going to be our big project this week, when we kick off our Youth-Led Badging program with the Chicago Public Library, Chicago Botanic Garden, and Project Exploration. I briefly mentioned this project in the last post, but the basic idea is to bring in 20 teens from around the city to work in our Education & Training Center, at the Chicago Botanic Garden (representing both their organization and Project Exploration), and various CPL locations around the city. The teens will be tasked with recruiting their peers to drop into their work sites to participate in programs and claim their Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) badges.
That’s obviously a very broad explanation of the program, but for the sake of this point that is not really our main concern. This week was all about just getting our ducks in a row and kicking off the program with our training/orientation for the teens (and their program supervisors), which took place on July 8.
Since The Anti-Cruelty Society is listed as the lead on the grant, organizing this huge, city-spanning project fell primarily on the shoulders of our Manager of Humane Education, Elliott Serrano, and Lydia Krupinski, the Director of Community Programs. After a series of conference calls with our grant partners and inner-departmental meetings, we finally planned the four-hour orientation. All that was left was actually doing all of the work necessary to pull it off!
The first thing we had to do was contact our on-staff graphic designer (which is a very handy person to have around, if you don’t already), who quickly went to work creating a logo and aesthetic that would be unique to the Youth-Led Badging program. Because we are developing and running this program in conjunction with three other organizations, it was important that the materials that we provided to all of the program’s participants didn’t appear to be specifically branded with our logo and style. Everything that we created for the orientation, as well as anything we make for the program moving forward, uses the logo and design that our designer created, from the badges on the CCOL website to the customized folders that we provided for each teen.
To fill out the four-hour event, we came up with a number of different presentations designed to help the teens prepare for their work in the program. Some of these presentations were handled by our department; for instance, Lydia gave two 30-minute presentations on using WordPress (shout out to our host site) and Marketing 101, which we had originally tapped our PR Manager to give, but that didn’t work out due to a scheduling conflict. Elliott gave a presentation on the step-by-step process of how to go about badging a teen using the CCOL website. However, we also brought in the big guns, and for the overview of CCOL and the badging program, CCOL’s own Tene Gray came in to give the kids the 411 on the basics of badging.
Working in informal education in Chicago means that the summer is going to be your busiest time of year (it also means that it will be over before you’ve even really had a chance to enjoy it, but that’s another story), and so even with four independent organizations working on this program, it can be hard to get everyone on the same phone call – so forget trying to put us all in a room together! As a result, we had a responsibility as the lead organization on this grant to sit down and really hammer out all of the finer details about how this program would be run, and then communicate those ideas to the others. This includes the duration of the program based on the funding and amount of hours outlined in the grant (50 hours per teen, so the program will run from approximately August – November to accommodate that), the methods of payment and how regularly the students will be paid, and really anything else that we think would make this whole thing more engaging for our teens.
One of the better ideas that came from our brainstorming was the decision to create “milestone” rewards for our 5 teens that will be working at The Anti-Cruelty Society (this is all coming back around to the orientation, I promise). The grant defines our primary goal for the program as having all 20 teens collectively badge 300 other Chicago teens through the CCOL platform. When we broke it down, this meant that each teen should be responsible for approximately 15 badges. To incentivize our teens to reach that goal, we created three milestone rewards for when they badge 5, 10, and 15 teens. Working at an animal shelter provides us with certain advantages, so our rewards are the opportunity to name a litter of puppies or kittens, 20 minutes inside of a “puppy pit,” and at 15 badges, teens get to spend the entirety of a work shift hanging out with a cat or dog living in the shelter.
We’re obviously trying to encourage our partners to come up with their own reward systems, so to get everybody on board, we followed up our initial 15-minute introduction part of the organization by throwing all of the teens into a puppy pit in our Education & Training Center’s training room. (In case it’s not obvious, a puppy pit consists of sitting on the floor in a room and just enjoying a presence of a litter of puppies that have been set loose in the room, as well.) Maybe this is a cheap way to win over a room full of teenagers, but we never said we were above bribing them!
This is the end of my week and this post is already very long, so I’m going to cut it off now. I have writing to do for The Anti-Cruelty Society magazine next week, and it will otherwise still be a very busy one for us, but I will try to find time to write more about our preparation for the Youth-Led Badging program and orientation by next Friday.