In her work with students with physical and cognitive needs at Lansing’s Beekman Center
, Dr. Nikki Kersey witnessed a notable difference in children’s development when interacting with dogs.
“The kids would talk to the dogs or throw the ball to the dogs, which helped them reach some of their goals,” says Kersey. “We started thinking that these goals are usually worked on at home with their parents too, so why can’t they have dogs at home to help them do that?”
That inspired Kersey to help connect families who could benefit from such interaction to well-trained assistance dogs. Seven years ago, Great Lakes Assistance Dogs
, or G.L.A.D. was born in Kersey’s living room.
“My partner and I are social workers, and we work with the families who work with the dogs,” says Kersey. “Nobody else offers that. When a person calls us to get started, we pair them up with puppies and start them in the bonding process right away.”
Though the non-profit started out slowly, Kersey says it was about two years ago when the phone really began to ring. The increase in need has led to growth in the organization, and now G.L.A.D. is celebrating its new 1,000 square foot storefront in Grand Ledge.
G.L.A.D. is always looking for volunteer puppy raisers, and relies nearly entirely on volunteers and donations. The new Grand Ledge location allows for the organization to rent space to a dog groomer, who also donates a portion of her profits back to G.L.A.D.
Kersey plans to continue to grow G.L.A.D. and provide assistance dogs to families in need. The cost to raise each dog is estimated at $25,000, and families are asked to contribute $12,500 for their dog. Kersey hopes to eventually provide dogs to families at no cost.