Gabriel's Angels is a nonprofit with the tagline of "Pets Helping Kids." I attended their 10th anniversary breakfast this morning and wow, what a powerful organization.
It started with Pam Gaber, who volunteered at a crisis shelter for victims of abuse and neglect. She had been working with the kids for some time, trying to build rapport with them, show them that there are adults who care for them and can be trusted. With each visit, Pam told the kids about her Weimaraner puppy Gabriel. Each week, they asked to hear more about Gabriel - what he had learned, what trouble he had caused. His antics had them hooked. So Pam decided to take him to the annual holiday party at the shelter (dressed as Rudolph, of course). It was such a transformational experience for the kids that Gabriel continued to accompany her. Then a couple more volunteers joined with their dogs. Then - the word got out about the impact Gabriel and his friends were having with the kids that other shelters started requesting their assistance.
And that's how Gabriel's Angels was born.
Today, they have over 100 therapy teams working with 90 organizations in Arizona. Last year alone, over 13,000 children were served with their services. At the breakfast this morning, over 1,100 people attended to show their support for the work this incredible group does. It was an incredibly moving event; the emcee (an anchor with a local news station) said it was the first time she'd ever cried at an event like this. Volunteers and partners shared stories of abused children learning empathy and compassion by petting a dog, brushing it. Learning trust and joy by hugging it. And, hopefully, breaking the cycle of violence for future generations.
I think my favorite story was one told by a volunteer. He visits kids with Sophie, a playful Golden Retriever who had the audience laughing as she bounded onto the stage. He said he asked the kids one day, "What do you love about Sophie?" Among their responses:
"She has fur."
"She plays with the ball."
That last line is enough to break your heart. I've volunteered with homeless and street kids for years and I can just picture a young child saying it so simply and earnestly, not realizing that having someone who listens is something every kid deserves. I want to be a part of this effort. So my partner and I have requested information on how to get involved and get trained as a therapy team. I think with a little training Nala could be a good therapy dog; she already is wonderful with kids and I would love for her to bring the same joy to abused kids that she does to the neighborhood kids.
Like many nonprofits, Gabriel's Angels is seeing an increase in need for their services. In times of economic hardship, domestic violence increases and groups like Gabriel's Angels become even more important. Please consider donating to Gabriel's Angels, in whatever amount you can, to support their incredible, important work. To find out more about the group, you can visit the Gabriel's Angels website.
Thank you to Jason Bressler of the North Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce for inviting us; kudos to The Phoenician for hosting such a huge, grand event (the kind staff member gave us a lift to our car said he had never seen an event with so many cars - great for Gabriel's Angels) and kudos to the Phoenix Philanthropists for volunteering at the event.
Photo of Gabriel from the Gabriel's Angels calendar I got today.