"The heart of this nonprofit is something that I feel like people my age could have a big impact on. It's one that we can really connect with," said Student Leader Abbie Campbell.
K9s For Warriors high school senior Abbie Campbell stood proudly, watching her fellow classmates rush over to greet the K9s For Warriors Service-Dogs in-training in the middle of her high school quad.
Weeks of planning and preparation had paid off — every student in the grassy courtyard had wide eyes and beaming smiles as they approached the Service-Dogs-in-training.
“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s very rewarding,” said Campbell, smiling at her classmates. “To see people just as passionate about K9s For Warriors as I am. You really feel like you can accomplish a lot.”
Campbell, a member of the K9s For Warriors Student Leaders Program since 2021, had prepared for weeks for this moment, spreading awareness for the K9s For Warriors mission at her high school.
It's Something You Can See
The K9s For Warriors Student Leaders Program, started in 2020, is an opportunity for high school students to volunteer, raise funds, and spread awareness for the K9s For Warriors mission, while also completing volunteer hours and learning valuable professional skills.
For many students, it’s a chance to collaborate and get involved in a life-changing mission.
“You’re actively participating in bettering someone’s life on their road to recovery from PTSD. It’s something you can see, too,” said Campbell.
You're actively participating in bettering someone's life on their road to recovery from PTSD. It's something you can see, too.
As a Jacksonville local, she’d heard about K9s For Warriors in the past, but she was introduced to the Student Leaders Program after hearing Elizabeth Reeger, K9s For Warriors student leaders coordinator, speak at a conference.
Reeger said she loves watching student leaders like Abbie bring their ideas to life.
“Abbie came to me and said, ‘I want to do a whole week at my school focused on awareness of K9s For Warriors,’” Reeger remembers.
“From there, we had a phone call brainstorming what that might look like,” Reeger said.
Now, for the hard part.
It Started Small
“It’s easy to put a date on a calendar, but coming down to it, there are a lot of details that go into preparing for an event,” Campbell remembers feeling overwhelmed at the beginning.
“I started with a little idea,” said Campbell. “I started planning about a month before, and a week and a half in advance, I made some flyers to hang around my school.”
Campbell organized a variety of events for the week to engage her fellow classmates. She even recruited a community business to support her cause.
“Earlier in the week, Abbie had some announcements sharing facts about K9s For Warriors on the school news. One night, at Panera, a portion of the proceeds were donated, and students were encouraged to attend,” said Reeger.
To recognize all of her classmates’ hard work that week, Campbell had something special planned for Friday. She couldn’t wait to see their reaction.
“She concluded the week with a visit from K9s For Warriors Service-Dogs-in-training to celebrate what they’d done,” she said. “I helped her coordinate, but it was all Abbie’s ideas and work.”
“I really wanted the students to see some of the dogs in action and see what the organization is all about,” said Campbell.
It's a Win-Win
The K9s For Warriors trainers and Service-Dogs-in-training arrived around lunchtime, and students stared and pointed as they strolled through the school hallways.
They made their way to the outdoor, grassy area in the middle of the campus and waited for the bell to ring. Once it did, students flooded out the doors and over to dogs.
Tails were wagging excitedly.
K9s For Warriors Service Dogs are trained to ignore social and public distractions, preparing for life with their veteran, but opportunities like this outing present valuable socialization experience.
“It’s a great way to get some immersion and practice in a social environment,” said Campbell. “It’s a win-win.”
Students and dogs alike clearly enjoyed themselves.
“It was really fun meeting all these new dogs,” said local student Shanna. “The trainers really helped me understand the process of what it takes to become a Service Dog.”
For Reeger, the best part is watching the student leaders’ hard work and preparation pay off in the end.
“There are always roadblocks, but seeing them persevere past that to successfully host an event is rewarding,” she said.
Hands-On With Our Mission
Starting in 2020 with 12 members, the Student Leaders Program has only grown with participants from public and private schools in the Jacksonville area.
Interested students complete an application and go through an interview process before the top candidates are accepted. The program is a year-long commitment, and students meet on the K9s For Warriors campus monthly, discussing and collaborating on a variety of topics like event planning, leadership, and public speaking.
Student leaders also volunteer throughout the school year.
“While we do have restrictions for volunteers who are younger than 18 years old, we’ve set up some special volunteering opportunities exclusive to student leaders,” said Reeger. “They help us set up some of our annual fundraisers and walk in local parades. They’re really hands-on with our mission.”
Student leaders organize a variety of events, including local movie nights, ice cream fundraisers, and a yearly holiday benefit.
“Those little things help,” said Reeger. “It seems like just a splash in the bucket, but it really adds up. It also helps our community learn more about our program. We see there is power in high school students.”
Last year, student leaders raised over $15,000 for K9s For Warriors, helping support the training of Service Dogs for veterans in-need.
It seems like just a splash in the bucket, but it really adds up. We see there is power in high school students.
Only the Beginning
The program got its start after a local Jacksonville Beach school, Fletcher High School, learned about K9s For Warriors in 2013.
“They decided they wanted to raise money to sponsor a dog,” said Reeger. “And they did exactly that. In 2014, they sponsored a dog and named it Fletcher. Since then, they’ve raised money to sponsor 17 dogs for veterans.”
K9s For Warriors staff saw how big of an impact the passionate Fletcher students made in their local community, and it was only the beginning. From there, the K9s For Warriors Student Leaders Program was born.
The Heart of This Nonprofit
“The heart of this nonprofit is something that I feel like people my age, who have a better understanding of mental health, could have a big impact on,” said student leader Campbell. “It’s one that we can really connect with.”
It’s also an opportunity to make new friends and collaborate with students from other schools.
“There’s always a friendly face and a connection that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this program,” said Campbell.
For graduating seniors like Campbell, the K9s For Warriors Student Leaders Program is also an opportunity to prepare for college.
As part of the upcoming Student Leaders Program, K9s For Warriors plans to implement a scholarship program, rewarding students for their dedication to the mission.