A Hand and Paw Partnership Benefits Homeless Youth

Dogs, and people, learn new tricks at the Virginia Woof Dog Daycare Center in Portland, OR. Owned and operated by Outside In, a social service agency that serves homeless youth and low-income adults, the doggie daycare provides job training for 25 formerly homeless young people every year.

"We chose a dog daycare because of the natural affinity youth have for animals," says Kathy Oliver, executive director of Outside In. In fact, because many homeless youth were coming to Outside In with four-legged friends in tow, the agency created a "dog lobby" at their facility, complete with kennels and water bowls.

To work at the center, youth between 17 and 24 years old must demonstrate a commitment to achieving self-sufficiency. Young people accepted to the program spend up to 20 hours in training before their first day on the job.

Youth can't leave street life without the ability to support themselves, Oliver says. But entering the business world results in culture shock for many homeless youth.

By working at Virginia Woof, Oliver says, "They learn to show up. That's probably the most basic skill."

Youth also learn how to meet employers' expectations, work in teams and take direction from others. They gain experience in customer service, greeting clients at the front desk and answering phones.

Some youth have moved on to jobs with local veterinarians. Many other area businesses have hired Virginia Woof graduates, too.

"They're learning transferable skills that they can use in any professional environment," Oliver says. "We don't expect everyone to go on and work in dog care."

Virginia Woof has received national recognition from the Federal Department of Labor as a best practices program.

For more information, contact Kathy Oliver, executive director of Outside In, at (503) 535-3801 or www.OutsideIn.org.