The first meeting of a unique new program called the Junior Ambassadors Committee was held Saturday by The Animal Refuge Center with a second meeting and training this Saturday, June 23.
This committee is for youths 10-15 who are interested in animals and have the will to help homeless animals and to get involved in the Southwest Florida community. The committee also will serve to give family members quality time together, a win-win, officials said.
A parent must accompany the youth volunteer to all functions and meetings.
The first meeting of the Junior Ambassadors program attracted a number of interested potential volunteers. An orientation will be held Saturday, June 23, at ARC for kids and their parents from 10 to 11 a.m.
"This is truly a unique program, and we are very excited about it," said ARC Board Chairman Lee Allor. "I don't know of any organization in the animal welfare world doing anything like it."
ARC is the area's largest no-kill animal shelter, with about 500 animals up for adoption at any given time. While based in North Fort Myers, many from Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral are also involved with the organization. He said the program came about because so many younger people have been helping the organization at community events.
At a recent adoption event at Sun Splash Family WaterPark, the daughter of a local TV anchor helped make announcements. The idea just clicked.
If You Go:
Who: The Animal Refuge Center (ARC)
What: Second meeting and training
for Junior Ambassadors
When: Saturday, June 23, 10 to 11 a.m.
Where: ARC headquarters at 18011 Old
Bayshore Road, North Fort Myers
"This is exciting stuff." Allor said. "This is bringing young people into the animal rescue world, and they and their parent become a team. The goal is to get them (youth ambassadors) out at events, to understand what we do and talk about it with conviction."
Organizations like ARC need to be in touch with young people.
"Young people are the future of ARC," Allor said.
Junior Ambassadors will not be handling the animals in any unsafe manner, officials stressed, but will learn how to become their advocates.
The first meeting for the youth committee was held at the Petco in the Forum.
"It came from having lots of people coming to the events that are younger, interested in helping out in a way no other facility will let them," said ARC spokesperson Demica Santiago. "They'll be involved in going to events, like at Petco, and telling the public about ARC and the pets."
Several young people and their parents signed up, including 14-year-old Paige Santiago of Cape Coral. She is Demica's little sister.
"She's a people person and likes talking to people, and she likes animals," Santiago said. "We were thinking about kids at events, some from Cape Coral, so we recruited them."
She said Paige is perfect for the program with her personality and love of animals.
"Paige will be going into North Fort Myers High in the new school year," she added. "She said she wanted to do it to broaden her horizons, and that she chose ARC because they chose young adults to do something like this."
The next meeting and a training program for the youths at ARC headquarters in North Fort Myers is Saturday. If you missed the first meeting, you can still sign up by calling ARC.
"We're going to have an orientation Saturday, June 23, at ARC for kids and their parents from 10 to 11 a.m.," Santiago said. "We are going to go through our entire facility, and then go through the animals they will be learning about, to tell the public about them. It will be more dog-oriented at events, more than cats."
There also is an opportunity for high school students who need community service hours to graduate to volunteer at ARC, said Caroline Clay, volunteer coordinator.
"We get volunteers from many areas, about 50 percent North Fort Myers, and 50 percent are from Cape Coral and other nearby areas," she said.
For more information on either the Junior Ambassador program or any type of volunteering, call Clay, at 731-3535 or visit animalrefugecenter.com or "like" ARC in Action on Facebook.
Incorporated in 1988, Animal Refuge Center is a not-for-profit animal welfare society dedicated to caring for all homeless animals brought to its care at its 22-acre sanctuary in North Fort Myers. The sanctuary houses 39 canine lodges, a Canine Training Center, a Cat Adoption Center, 16 feline facilities, and is home to more than 450 cats and 80 dogs.
Petco at the Forum is at 9380 Dynasty Drive in Fort Myers, off Colonial Boulevard, in The Forum Shops.
For information about Petco, call 938-0201. ARC is at 18011 Old Bayshore Road in North Fort Myers, by the Lee Civic Center. For information on ARC, call 731-3535.