“It’s amazing how everyone came together for this one cause and really put their all into it.” said Justeen Kelley, a graduating CCV Rutland student. “No matter who you are or what you do, you can come together for one cause, and if you put in the hard work and you put in the energy, you can make it happen.”
The class’ goal was to raise $1,200 to purchase one bullet- and stab-proof vest for a Rutland area police dog, Kelley said. On Thursday students involved in the project presented Vermont Police Canine Association Treasurer Bob Ryan and President Wade LaBrecque with a check for well over that amount. The total, $2,728, will be used to purchase a vest for a local K9 unit with the remainder earmarked for the purchase or training of a new dog for one of the region’s police departments.
Speaking at Thursday’s ceremony at CCV Rutland, Mayor Chris Louras said he appreciated the work the students had done for the law enforcement community and stated that K9s are a critical component of policing today. Beyond this, Louras said the service learning project was a valuable educational tool and a great lesson in grassroots organizing.
“Frankly, the type of thing you did through this project, with the vests, is indicative of the type of engagement a community needs from its citizens in order for it to be successful,” Louras said. “What you’ve done is not just learn, which is the prime reason you’re here, but more importantly from my perspective, you have engaged with the community and produced an outcome that will benefit everyone in the community.”
When Fox told her students that they’d be raising funds to purchase protective vests for Vermont’s K9 units as part of a service learning project this semester, she knew they’d be successful. But neither she nor others in the Rutland area anticipated the groundswell of support the students have seen. It’s a result, Fox said, of students using social media and traditional boots-on-the-ground community engagement techniques.
“I had no expectation of the results when we started,” Fox said. “I was confident we could reach the $1,200 goal but this project just took on a life of its own. The students were amazingly committed to the project and empowered by the project once they started seeing the results. It’s a great tribute to the students and to the community.”
Fox said students approached businesses, neighbors, family members, and anyone else who’d listen, and came away with support from organizations such as Rutland Regional Medical Center, Genesis HealthCare, Petco, and Wagatha’s Organic Dog Biscuits, not to mention the countless individuals who chipped in for the cause.
“I am so proud,” Fox said. “Not only for what they’ve accomplished, but what they’ve learned in the process and the skills they learned along the way.”
And those skills were on display at the event—students set up informational table displays, a video, and spoke before the crowd of approximately fifty about what they’d learned and how they approached the project. And all along an eighty-plus pound German Shepherd named Andre patrolled the aisles, checking out the scene and barking occasionally when people entered or exited the space.
LaBrecque, a corporal with the Burlington Police Department and Andre’s handler for the past six years, said the work the students had done will go far in helping to meet budget demands associated with protecting the state’s K9 force, whether it be for training, a vest, or other gear. He explained that vests are custom made for individual dogs and can cost upwards of $2,000, but that with the higher levels of violence the police are seeing, they’re a necessity.
Rutland City Police Chief James Baker reinforced this message, noting that the increase in opiate addiction that Vermont communities are seeing also comes with a corresponding increase in violence.
“Unfortunately, because of the nature of this issue, some of the folks that are involved bring a level of violence that is just not unacceptable to us in Vermont,” Baker said. “To be able to protect our dogs is an important piece, it’s not little.”
Baker went on to say that for K9 handlers, losing their dog would be like losing a human partner, a point that LaBrecque echoed moments later.
“Unless I’m on vacation, he is with me 24-7. He sleeps next to my bed, he goes to work with me, he’s around the house, he is my partner, and if something were to happen to him it would be devastating,” LaBrecque said, motioning to Andre who sat obediently at his side. “So, from the bottom of my heart and from all the other K9 handlers in state, thank you so much.”
Watching as Andre roamed freely after the event, Kelley said she was awestruck by the level of support she and her classmates had seen, but that they weren’t stopping there. The class, she said, will continue to collect donations through Memorial Day. But for now, she’s happy with the result.
“We made it happen, we exceeded our goal by double,” Kelley said. “I think I speak for the whole class when I say we’re proud of that.”