Jacksonville nonprofit Chelsea’s Chariot is on a mission to improve child educational and social skills with the assistance of therapy dogs.
Chelsea’s Chariot began as an animal-assisted reading intervention funded through the Humble ISD Education Foundation for Innovations in Education grant, which was written by co-founder Michelle Hise who runs the organization with her husband Philip.
“Our mission statement is ‘improving all lives by saving four-legged companions,'” Hise said. “Our current focus is building children’s confidence and fluency in literacy.”
The organization, which transitioned from a limited liability to company to a nonprofit in 2019, recently partnered with the city of Jacksonville to offer a special program, “Rescue Readers.”
The programme, held at the public library, consists of four stations at which children read aloud to a therapy dog, interact with puppies, listen to a fun read-aloud and teach basic skills and tricks to older puppies.
Hise said the goal of the program is to help students on several different levels.
“Students will improve self-confidence, social skills, perseverance and reading fluency skills,” she said. “In addition to the reading program, we also use the dogs to teach students about a growth mindset as well as encouraging good citizenship.”
Hise said it the importance of reaching younger children has grown.
“Our educational system was struggling before COVID-19. Now we have third graders who’ve never experienced a ‘normal’ school year,” she said. “We have to change our approach if we are going to address the learning gaps and social-emotional needs of our new normal.
“As a community, our future depends on our current youth. We are all stakeholders in equipping them to be well prepared, productive members of society,” Hise added.
Jacksonville Public Library lead librarian Trina Stidham said the library is thrilled to partner with the organization. She met the Hises when they were new patrons of the library. They wanted to participate in the summer reading program, and Stidham had already seen the impact therapy dogs can have in working with children.
“Adding a trained animal to an activity such as practicing reading aloud, that they dread, works wonders. The student is less self-conscious, anxiety decreases and increases confidence over time,” she said. “This is why we partnered with Chelsea’s Chariot.”
Stidham went on to say the benefits of such a program are long-lasting and can have an extremely positive impact on the community.
“Everything affects the quality of life in a small town. Providing our children with a love of reading gives them the basic skill they need to be successful in school and eventually as an adult in this community,” she said. “They are our next great employee, young entrepreneur, and active citizen.”
Stidham hopes local families will come in to benefit from the program.
“I hope families that are already planning to participate in the Summer Reading program will add this as an additional opportunity to read to Chelsea, track it in their reading log and turn the reading log in for a prize.”
The organization has two certified dogs, Chelsea and Charlie, and two in the process of becoming certified pending funding.
In addition to daily and ongoing care of the animals which includes food, vet bills and preventative measures, training and certification of each therapy dog costs about $2,600 per dog, according to Hise.
The nonprofit has also contacted the Rusk Public Library and local schools in hopes of expanding its program.
For more information, visit chelseaschariot.org.