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The brilliant reason this dog trainer is having school teachers train service dogs.

A furry friend can do so much more than snuggle you when you've had a bad day.

The brilliant reason this dog trainer is having school teachers train service dogs.

Kathryn Oda has been living with anxiety and depression since she was 14.

There's no such thing as a quick fix for either, and given the symptoms of both, it's often difficult for people living with them to find the motivation to attempt treatment.

For Oda, everything changed when she adopted a furry little corgi named Buddy.


Buddy looks like quite the puddin in this pic! #rolleypolley #badangle #corgisgottacorg #cutiepie

A photo posted by Corgis Gotta Corg (They Must!) (@corgisgottacorg) on

"Before Buddy, I couldn't bring myself to roll out of bed sometimes, especially when I was feeling down," Oda wrote in an email. "But Buddy's little face, his smile, his contagious joy, gets me up every day, even on the hardest ones, when the world feels dark and gloomy."

Buddy is not a trained psychiatric service dog, but he happened to be just what Oda needed. And Oda is far from the only person to have found the four-legged companionship of a dog soothing.

Many people living with mental illness need the support of a specially trained service dog. Which is where Abby Hill comes in.

As a professional dog trainer, Hill had many people come to her looking for help finding a service dog, especially for debilitating anxiety.

About Buddy, Oda wrote, "having a companion who never judges, who is always happy to see you, who loves you unconditionally through the good and bad, is the most uplifting feeling in the world."

But trained service dogs are more than just companions — they're trained to do things like help stop panic attacks, lead their handler to the nearest exit if they are overwhelmed, and nudge them outside to run errands or for a walk to get exercise.

"When I started looking into ways to help these people, I found there was a two- to three-year wait nationwide for service dogs," said Hill. Not to mention, a certified psychiatric service dog costs $25,000 on average and is usually not covered by insurance.

Hill embarked on a mission to get people the help they needed without the extraordinary cost or lengthy wait time.

Meet Bella. Photo courtesy of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs.

Hill is the founder of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs (TEPSD), a nonprofit organization that offers service dogs to children and adults living with various mental illnesses. The program is based solely on donations, which means she is able to pair people with service dogs free of charge.  

TESPD works with each person's therapist to make sure the dog's support skills match their specific needs.

Most of the TEPSD dog trainers are also teachers who bring the dogs into their classrooms to get used to working and being around lots of children and chaos.

Bridget Berechid is a TEPSD dog trainer and a science teacher at Newtown High School in Connecticut.

Berechid couldn't believe how calm and well-mannered her puppy-in-training, Jake, was right from the beginning. "Even though he was only four months old at the time, it was obvious the puppy already understood that when the vest was on, he was 'at work,'" Berechid wrote in an email.

Berechid with puppy Jake. Photo courtesy of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs.

‌The puppies spend 15 months going through basic training with their teacher trainers, which includes a lot of public interaction with students.

Taking the puppies to school also encourages the students to ask questions about mental health.

"We’ve seen kids come up, ask about the dogs, then all of a sudden it starts a conversation about how they feel anxiety in certain situations," says Hill. "It's really helping break down the mental health stigma."

Berechid also points out the regular presence of the dogs in classrooms is raising awareness around the importance of service dogs for any sort of disability.

In 2017, TESPD plans to launch a teen trainer program that will assign high school students a dog to train at intervals throughout the day to help them get a better sense of what kinds of benefits service dogs provide and how to work with them.

"By involving the community in the raising of these puppies, we are educating people about the lifesaving role these dogs play," Berechid said.

TESPD's unique classroom training method for service dogs means the dogs won't just help the person they're eventually paired with — they're helping entire classrooms of students along the way.

Because of the stigma that still exists around mental illness, many people in need don't reach out and ask for help when they need it. Normalizing discussions about mental health — and the idea that service dogs are what some people need to feel safe and functional in the world — to kids at a young age lets those kids know that there's nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it.

Even if the students don't end up needing service dogs themselves, their experience with TEPSD will make them more compassionate to anyone they encounter who lives with one. Compassion, much like a friendly dog, is one thing that can make a tough situation better.

‌Bella and her pup-raising family. Photo courtesy of The Exceptional Partner Service Dogs.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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