by June Portnoy
One hundred and twenty-five walkers participated in the first Nor’wester Readers Family Dog Walk at Tyler Park on Sunday, May 6th, raising over $7,000.
“We set our goal to raise $4,000 to $5,000, so we exceeded our expectations,” said Wendi Huttner, co-founder of the Nor’wester Readers.
This day marked the first official fundraiser of the Nor’wester Readers, a canine-assisted learning program that brings certified therapy dog teams to work cooperatively with teachers at local schools to support and build student motivation, enhance focus and increase task persistence.
Many walkers included students who hoped to see their therapy dogs. Parents came wanting to finally meet the dog that their child had fondly talked about all year.
In addition, 15 to 20 teachers involved in the Nor’wester Readers Program made an appearance to support this organization or to walk along the 5K trail with their own family and dogs.
“It was heartwarming to see all of these people come to our event,” said Wendi. “We’re truly becoming a Nor’wester Readers family made up of students, their families, teachers and schools.”
Wendi was especially pleased with the “family fun community event that we created” after everyone had completed their walk.
Families enjoyed hot dogs cooked on the grill and music supplied by a professional DJ. The Lower Bucks Dog Training Club hosted free-style doggy dancing. It also set up an agility course where it gave agility demonstrations.
A big hit of the day was the dog contest for the smallest, biggest and cutest dogs, just to name a few of the many categories.
In addition, kids enjoyed pony rides, a balloon artist, face painting and caricatures. Ten beautiful raffle baskets created a lot of attention from adults, raising $350.
“The reason this was our first fundraiser was because we just became a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization last year,” said Deborah Glessner, co-founder of the Nor’wester Readers with Wendi. “Up until now Wendi or I have paid out-of-pocket for anything needed to run this program.
“Proceeds from this event will make it possible to put more therapy dogs in the classroom and help us to grow this organization.”
The Nor’wester Readers began in the Council Rock School District five years ago with just one therapy dog, and today every elementary school, middle school and high school in Council Rock participates in the program. Thirty-five therapy dog teams see more than 600 kids weekly, and yet there is still a waiting list in this school district for more therapy dogs.
For the past three years, Nor’wester Readers has brought therapy dogs to the Lower and Upper Elementary Schools in the New Hope-Solebury School District. In addition, Nor’wester Readers now brings therapy dogs to Afton Elementary School in the Pennsbury School District and Belmont Hills Elementary School in the Bensalem Township School District.
It also brings a therapy dog to the Center School, a private school in Abington, PA.
“The Nor’wester Readers was established as a reading program, but evolved into other subjects such as writing, math and even oral presentations,” said Wendi. “Teachers are always finding new and creative ways to use these dogs to help children learn. These dogs are often able to get through to children when nobody else can reach them.
“We currently have a great need for therapy dogs in all of our school districts, especially in Bensalem Township and Pennsbury, and we’d like to expand into other school districts as well.”
Proceeds from the Nor’wester Readers Family Dog Walk will also be used to spread awareness about this organization.
Due to the huge success of the first Nor’wester Readers’ Family Dog Walk, Wendi and Debbi have decided to make it an annual event the first weekend of every May, but they continue to need your support in helping this program grow and succeed.
If you have a therapy dog that you’d like to register in the Nor’wester Readers, visit them at www.norwesterreaders.org to find out how you and your dog can help make a positive difference in a child’s life at school.
PHOTO CAP: Wendi Huttner (left) with her Lab and therapy dog, Hannah, and Deborah Glessner with her Lab and therapy dog, Wes.