National Association of Counties' representatives granted the 2022 Achievement Award to a Chester County program in which juvenile offenders serve their community service working with animals from the Brandywine Valley SPCA to provide socialization of shelter dogs and cats before they're offered for adoption. In less than a year, 255 juvenile offenders fulfilled community service requirements at the SPCA's Shelter Animals For Enrichment (SAFE) program.
The award honors innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents, and are given in 18 categories, including children/youth, criminal justice and public safety, county administration, information technology, health and civic engagement.
Chester County Youth Center caseworker Kristi Washington submitted the idea for juvenile offenders to fulfill community service hours while also providing a positive enrichment experience for them.
"While the success of our SAFE program can be measured in ‘community hours served,' its value is really found in the effect it has on those in the Youth Center and the County staff who're working with them. The program fosters an environment of judgment-free love and really builds beneficial relationships with everyone involved," says Hailey Marcus, Brandywine Valley SPCA director of community engagement. "And, at the end of the week, each animal is eligible for, and is typically successful in, being adopted to a permanent home. Many animals have found their second chance with help from the SAFE program.”
Linda Torelli, Brandywine Valley SPCA chief marketing officer, says this partnership and the SAFE program reflect the overall priority placed on people and pets, not just the animals. "SAFE is one of many programs that honor and support the invaluable impact pets and people have on each other. Other examples include our Paws for Change pet therapy program for regular visits to places like prisons and classrooms for special needs students, our pet food pantry for families needing a bridge to care for their pets, and assistance for pets of domestic violence survivors.”
This community service was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when other neighborhood service opportunities were restricted. Beyond that, this program contributed toward the important mission of securing homes for shelter pets.
Brandywine's shelter in West Chester is located at 1212 Phoenixville Pike. For questions, phone 484.302.0865.