Cohen ’08 Receives Service Award for Hands2Paw Organization

Rachel Cohen ’08 carried her “non sibi” spirit beyond Andover Hill when she received the 2011 Students in Service Award for her organization Hand2Paw on March 18, 2011. Hand2Paw strives to create brighter futures for both animals and homeless youths in the Philadelphia area. A Biology major at University of Pennsylvania, Cohen was one of the hundreds of college students that applied for the 2011 Students in Service Award, a prize that honors an outstanding student-initiated service project. Cohen won the national competition for her organization Hand2Paw, which she started in 2009. Cohen will receive $5,000 dollars in scholarships and a $2,500 grant for use in the program as part of the award. Hand2Paw provides homeless youth job with training and therapeutic experiences in animal care and increased activity and socialization for animals in shelters. Cohen started the project two years ago and currently serves as its Executive Director. “Hand2Paw has big plants for the grant. We will use the money to sustain our Philadelphia program and provide paid internships to youths who deserve a chance to shine,” said Cohen. Cohen also demonstrated her “non sibi” spirit as a student at Andover. After entering in 2004, Cohen was involved in Praxis and the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). Cohen said both experiences stressed the importance of service to her and inspired her to give back. Cohen said Andover’s “Non Sibi” motto particularly spoke to her, reinforcing her own values and driving her to pursue social entrepreneurship. “My goal is to make big systematic changes to improve the lives of all living creatures, particularly synergistic programs that benefit humans and animals simultaneously,” said Cohen. Sparked by companionship she saw between teens and dogs on the streets of Philadelphia, Cohen volunteered frequently at the Philadelphia Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) and the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) while in college. “Animals face a terrible plight in Philadelphia, and thousands are euthanized for lack of volunteers to care for them.” Cohen incorporated the local runaway and crisis center, Covenant House, and Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia for youths interested in learning about animal care and looking for work with her own project. “I reached out to them and found out that these youths really do love these animals. Both of these parties can help each other and find success,” Cohen said. As a result, Hand2Paw hopes to reduce system animal abuse and domestic violence by teaching youths to teach all creatures with kindness as well as find a means of support for older teens that have outgrown the foster care system. Many Philadelphian youths are cut off from state support at age 18 and go to homeless shelters. They have little skills or means of support. However, in the Hand2Paw program, the youths have the opportunity to help in kennels and veterinary clinics, and can entertain and care for cats and dogs. Cohen said that the health of the shelter animals can deteriorate from spending over 23 hours a day in a cage. The youths provide stimulation through games, grooming and training, freeing up kennel attendants and shelter workers to focus on finding the animals homes. The young adults also gain experience working in the job world, learning professionalism, the significance of uniform, and how to interact with supervisors. “We have paid internships for especially motivated youth…and we try to give them extra mentoring and help finding a career in animal care,” Cohen continued. In the future, Cohen hopes to expand beyond the two sites Hand2Paw has in Philadelphia, branching out to every animal shelter in Philadelphia by 2013. She has also made tentative plans to spread to New York this coming year. Cohen hopes to increase the number of volunteer sessions and paid internships at all the sites. “Hand2Paw has taught me how to lead, and helped me articulate what is needed to bet the ball rolling on big ideas, and I will continue to oversee [it] until I am absolutely sure it is sustainable,” she said. “It’s inspiring to see how Hand2Paw touches the lives of so many animals, as well as so many youths that deserve great opportunities in life.”