No Paws Too Small

Winter 2018 Issue

Feature Story

No Paws Too Small

Students lend a hand at Atlantic County Animal Shelter.

by Kevin Coopersmith '12, MBA '15

Students at animal shelter


One Friday in January, a busload of Stockton students set off to Pleasantville to socialize with some new friends.

Instead of grabbing lunch at a local diner or catching a movie, the group had planned an afternoon of helping to enrich the lives of South Jersey’s furry and four-legged population at the Atlantic County Animal Shelter.

It was all part of a special assignment, organized by Stockton Bonner Leader Nick Camacho, to wrap up a vibrant week of community outreach activities as part of Stockton’s MLK Week of Service.

The students spent the afternoon with the shelter's cats and dogs. Activities included socializing to build trust, walking, playing and training the animals to understand commands and receive positive reinforcement.

Kathy Kelsey, director of the shelter, said all of those interactions can make a big difference in the animals finding homes and living happy lives.

Student at animal shelter“Animals need to have a good quality of life – it’s impacted by socialization, enrichment, training – all those things that volunteers do,” Kelsey explained.

The students’ involvement as volunteers during the MLK Week of Service marks the latest project in an ongoing partnership between Stockton and the Atlantic County Animal Shelter, where students have taken part in volunteer projects since 2003.

Kelsey credits Stockton’s role as an “ally in the community,” noting the positive impact of Stockton’s projects, volunteer presence, food donation drives and assistance in promoting the shelter over the years.

“Stockton students have been a wonderful help at the shelter,” said Ashley Wilson, coordinator of volunteers at the shelter. “Their positive attitudes and eagerness have done wonders to make our animals happier and more adoptable, from socializing the cats and dogs to working with our volunteer trainer to reinforce the obedience training and behavior modifications.”

Students at animal shelter
Ashley Wilson of the Atlantic County Animal shelter leads a training session with students from Stockton.
Their positive attitudes and eagerness have done wonders to make our animals happier.”— Ashley Wilson of Atlantic County Animal Shelter

In the future, Wilson and Kelsey hope to expand the partnership between Stockton and the shelter, to include internship programs and academic course involvement.

Camacho, a freshman majoring in Applied Physics with a concentration in Engineering, organized the service project as a Bonner Leader in the Stockton’s Office of Service-Learning. In Fall 2016, Service-Learning introduced the Bonner Leader program, a national student leadership and community engagement program sponsored by AmeriCorps. 

“We’re here to be the outreach to the students, to connect them with Service-Learning and get them out in the community,” said Camacho about his role.

Camacho continues to become more involved with the animal shelter, assisting Wilson at volunteer information sessions at Stockton. He hopes that the behavior modification component of the volunteer program can eventually be included in a Stockton course.

“It was smooth sailing,” said Camacho about the recent service project at the shelter. “Everything went well and nothing bad happened with the planning, just except for the poop, but… you know.”

Student at animal shelterThe day was a unique experience for the Stockton volunteers. 

Jessica Centeno, a Criminal Justice major, has volunteered at the shelter since she first learned about the opportunity at Stockton’s Get Involved Fair last fall. She noticed the significance of the large Stockton presence that day at the shelter. “The dogs are really excited, the energy is great – you can tell the difference here,” she said.

Sharae Howell, a Social Work major, who volunteered at the shelter for the first time, encourages others to lend a hand.

“Step out of your comfort zone, do something you wouldn’t normally do because it might be something you’re really passionate about and would have no idea about otherwise,” Howell said.

Malak Buhardan, an exchange student from Lebanon and a Hospitality & Tourism Management major, spent her day helping to provide enrichment for the dogs through training.

Buhardan said, “The dogs deserve love, anyone coming to volunteer will see they are beautiful animals. Well, they’re not just animals; they’re friends.” 

Learn more about Stockton's Office of Service-Learning.