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Checking in with Our Grantees: Hand2Paw

Get to know Hand2Paw and hear how they’re unleashing opportunities for youth and shelter animals in Philadelphia with a little help from their Spruce Foundation grant.

— Penny Ellison, Executive Director of Hand2Paw

Hand2Paw is the only nonprofit in Philadelphia with a mission to teach youth practical work skills in a trauma-informed, animal welfare setting. We provide a safe and supportive work environment for youth, ages 16-24, who are experiencing housing insecurity or foster care involvement, as a means of enhancing resilience and connection with people, animals, and the community. Founded in 2012, Hand2Paw runs paid internships for youth to work with homeless animals as well as a curriculum of programming that enhances coping skills, emotional regulation, and healing using animal assisted interventions. Youth learn humane education and veterinary skills running a small animal rescue at Hand2Paw. Youth take trips to animal welfare agencies and veterinary hospitals and run community pet pantry events to provide free and low-cost resources to pet owners in the community. For youth who have experienced abandonment and housing insecurity in their own lives, connecting with our Hand2Paw animals, keeping them safe, and finding them loving homes supports their healing and arms them to become animal advocates in the community.

Hand2Paw runs three main programs throughout the year. Unleashing Opportunities is our most intensive 6-month internship where young people, ages 18-24, work 25-30 hours per week building socio-emotional and career readiness skills by learning to work with homeless animals and transitioning into a job placement in the animal welfare field. Our program is structured to focus on topics that encompass social and work skills such as conflict resolution, budgeting and financial literacy, self-esteem and self-efficacy, and job preparedness. Pawspurr is our introductory 3-month program fostering connection and community for young people through a weekly humane education curriculum. In addition, we are a Summer WorkReady site for youth ages sixteen through eighteen in the child welfare system through our partnership with the Achieving Independence Center.

2022 was a big year for Hand2Paw! We moved into our new home in Olney in May, and our youth were integral in helping with the move and planning the layout of our new space. Our Spruce Foundation grant supported us to grow the organization as we were able to use the funds to help us hire a full-time Program Facilitator to work with our Program Director to provide our participants with more one-on-one support.

In 2022, Hand2Paw served 18 youth and graduated six youth from our Unleashing Opportunities and Pawspurr programs! Hand2Paw youth and staff have cared for 80 animals with 41 of them still in our care, two in foster homes and 37 of them being adopted to loving homes. In addition, our impact in the Olney community has been growing since we moved; we held two Community Pet Pantries at our new space this summer impacting over 160 households and 480 pets! In August, our youth rescued 20 abandoned guinea pigs that were running loose in Northeast Philadelphia. We were so impressed to see our youth in action as animal advocates in the community.

We look forward to even more growth and continuing to partner with the Spruce Foundation in 2023 to help Hand2Paw serve more youth, animals, and community members!

Want to support the Spruce Foundation in our efforts to provide grants to youth-serving nonprofits? Make a donation today.