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CPL Prison Puppy Program Liaison Receives Award

May 31, 2016
Erica 3

Erica has been the volunteer trainer at SCI Greene, a facility involved in our Prison Puppy Raising Program, since May 2014. She was recently selected as the SCI Greene 2016 Volunteer of the Year! Below is the speech that was shared to honor Erica during the awards ceremony.

“In March of 2014, SCI Greene opened its doors to 5 yellow Labrador retrievers from Canine Partners for Life to begin their journey as service dogs-in-training. It was through a staff member that Erica began her service as a puppy trainer. Somewhat apprehensive about volunteering in a maximum security prison, Erica approached the opportunity to serve in her new role with an open-mind and strong desire to lead.

Erica began volunteering in May 2014 as SCI Greene’s trainer and prison puppy program liaison for Canine Partners for Life. Twice a month, she facilitates trainings with inmate and staff handlers working with puppies-in-training to reach full service dog status. Her creative training techniques, years of experience working with dogs, and leadership have provided the inmate handlers with the opportunity to challenge themselves as trainers and grow personally with each new experience. When Erica is not facilitating training, she makes time to take puppies out of the institution and socialize them at public events. Additionally, Erica has also developed a strong relationship with the puppy program liaisons at both SCI Somerset and SCI Laurel Highlands and continues to assist both institutions with training classes.

Erica has found meaning in working with the men in prison. She is inspired by the quote from Father Gregory Boyle, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what fellow humans have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” She stated with passion, “I get to witness the connection between handler & puppy, as well the professionalism of each person involved with the program. Furthermore, I get to share with the community the life-changing things these men, volunteers & staff are doing. We are a team of dog trainers making a difference in the world, one person and puppy at a time.”

Each training, Erica continues to inspire and encourage the men to reach new goals personally and professionally. Chris said, “Seeing her continue to put so much positive energy into a program like ours encourages me to put forth more effort into other programs and situations I put myself in.” Paul expressed that “her dedication to us and our program is inspiring and her patience just reminds me that some people really do care.” The staff involved in the puppy program at Greene are truly grateful for her ongoing commitment and continued enthusiasm she brings to the program. She is the definition of a team player and truly passionate about her volunteer duties.

Erica lives with her husband Jim and two beautiful dogs, Baxter and Tortilla. She graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a BS in Mathematics and Ohio University with a MA in Outdoor Education and Recreation. She currently serves as the Program Coordinator for the Phoenix Arts Center, A mission of The Uniontown Arts Fellowship. Erica was the driving force behind Lafayette Community recently receiving a $10,000 Seeds of Change grant to re-enliven the Community Garden for the well-being and education of students at Lafayette Elementary and the local neighborhood. Additionally, she is currently training to become a yoga instructor, a strong passion she shares with many.

Thank you, Erica, for your selfless and compassionate service to our community. Congratulations on your selection as the SCI Greene 2016 Volunteer of the Year.”

Written by Kayla Shaner and Mike Smith.