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June 11, 2007

Guilford County 4-H'ers expand horizons in PetPALS

4-H'er Logan Brown
Guilford County 4-H'er Logan Brown shows Thumper to a Bell House resident.

On a warm early spring afternoon, a group of Guilford County 4-H'ers, parents and Cooperative Extension staff paid a special visit to Bell House, an assisted living community in Greensboro for people who have cerebral palsy. Also along for the gathering was Thumper, a one-year-old caramel colored rabbit.

He was the life of the party, nestled in a cardboard box and soaking up attention from Bell House residents.

The visit was one of many that the 4-H'ers will make to Bell House this year as part of 4-H PetPALS, an intergenerational program that links young people and their pets with residents of healthcare and assisted living facilities.

Logan Brown, 16, enjoys being part of the PetPALS program. "It’s cool to meet different people and make new friends," she said. She's grown up with animals in her life, from chickens to dogs, and she's eager to share that experience with other people.

Along with Logan, Nichole Batchelor, 21, and Andre Harris, 13, round out the membership of the 4-H PetPALS TRY ("Teens Reaching Youth") team in Guilford County.

"I wanted a new leadership opportunity and to learn new things," Nichole said. She's also an animal lover, with chickens, cats, rabbits and a dog at home.

The program in Guilford County started in late 2005, when Extension 4-H agent Peggie Lewis received a grant from the College's Animal Science Department. The funding enabled the Guilford County 4-H TRY team to conduct a series of workshops throughout the next year called "Walk a Mile in My Shoes."

Designed to train youth and adults in the different aspects of the PetPALS curriculum, the workshops focused on the physical and medical conditions of people as they age.

For instance, a simulation with yellow cellophane revealed what it might be like to have cataracts. Participants also stuffed cotton in their ears to imagine the experience of a person who is hard of hearing.

"Our 4-H TRY team had a great experience teaching these workshops because the participants really enjoyed the exercises and learned a lot," Lewis said. "After a year of teaching, our team was ready to go into assisted living facilities to implement the second phase of the curriculum."

In January, the 4-H'ers – and Thumper – made their first visit to Bell House and interacted with residents of all ages. They'll continue these visits throughout the year.

"We're always trying to find different things for our 4-H'ers to do," Lewis said. "PetPALS is a great opportunity for them to gain confidence and interact with new people."

-S.Stanard

Posted by Suzanne at June 11, 2007 04:42 PM