Story by Bella Wexler
Many teenagers look forward to summer break for the freedom to relax, yet many Green Valley locals have decided that the best way to kick back after a long school year is to give back at their local animal shelter. For nine years, Animal League of Green Valley has offered local, high school age teens the opportunity to engage in a meaningful summer internship. This program builds community bonds across species and generations as teen volunteers learn to engage well with animals and work together with the adult, often elderly volunteers. The age gap between volunteers is bridged by this program’s ability to unite two generations of people by their shared animal rights values. It creates an “intercultural ambience”, says Jean Davis, president of the shelter’s board of directors and Youth Internship Program Coordinator.
Jean became involved with Animal League of Green Valley after she retired from teaching. She was inspired by the founder’s experiences with hospice patients whose primary worry was what would happen to their pets in the end. Now, Animal League of Green Valley is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a lasting impact on animals and people alike. Overseeing the Youth Interns has given Jean “so much faith in the next generation” of animal welfare advocates. Through this program, she has witnessed teens blossom from their weeks of demonstrated compassion by choice. The element of choice is a key factor in what makes this program’s members so phenomenal. Not many teenagers would willingly jump into a regular, unpaid internship as a service to their community the second school gets out for summer break. But Animal League of Green Valley’s Youth Interns are eager to make this choice, trading in a couple hours a week for the chance to improve animal lives.
In order to become part of this program, candidates submit appli-cations via the Animal League website which inquire about their motivation to participate, self-assessment of their work ethic, experience as animal caregivers, and parental permission. All those who fulfill the application requirements satisfactorily are granted acceptance into the program. Before the internship begins, applicants are invited to an orientation during which they split up into groups of ten to tour the facility and fill out paperwork regarding their preferences and availability. Once they’ve signed up, they have three days of training to learn how to safely handle animals and how to respond when prospective adopters express interest in an animal, among other things. All in all, the members of the Youth Internship Program (often referred to as “YIP”s) assume the same responsibilities around the shelter as the adult volunteers. This includes cleaning up after the animals, feeding and walking the animals, socializing with them, and acting as the “eyes and ears” of the shelter by observing animal behavior and reporting potential health issues. YIPs begin the Summer working a maximum of four hours per week. However, those who are interested in committing more time by the end of the second week may add more hours to their schedules for the remainder of the eight-week program.
In addition to donating their time, YIPs also surrender their electronic device privileges each day they come to the shelter. By relinquishing their technology access each visit, they don’t have to worry about responding to the next text or checking the notifications that just came in. “In a way, they seem to be more relaxed without them,” says Jean. At Animal League of Green Valley, youth interns get a much-needed chance to check out from the internet and check in to the shelter to truly engage with the animals and productively complete their required tasks. Of course, once they have finished their work, the interns are welcome to pick up their phones to take photos with the animals if they so desire. These teenagers voluntarily exchanging some electronic screen time for some uninterrupted work to support pets in need truly lives up to their YIP T-shirt slogan, “The Future of Animal Rescue” and I would argue it earns them a reputation as current philanthropic leaders, too.
The Youth Internship program at Animal League of Green Valley is a remarkable program that offers high schoolers the opportunity to make valuable contributions to the lives of adoptable pets while building stronger relationships with peers and adult volunteers. To get involved and learn more about the Animal League mission or apply for a position as a youth intern, visit https://talgv.org. The youth interns are “a joy to all of us here”, according to Jean. And, to all of us who aren’t there, they are an inspiration.