MHCrossroads Campus’ outreach program, Caring Connections, brings together youth in need of healing, opportunities to enhance empathy, and building self-worth with rescued puppies and dogs that need socialization, basic positive reinforcement training and to develop trust as they await adoption by forever families.  Caring Connections’ diverse components are blended into a  rewarding experience for all involved. The product is an inspiring, exciting, win-win three to eleven session humane education and dog training series.

This dynamic program is based on a tested and replicated recipe—one that allows for ongoing adjustments to taste, and adaptation according to the themes at hand, the educational venue, the program’s participants’ ages for each series, and the dogs that provide a focus for learning. The following recipe has been developed for Monroe Harding’s Cooperative Living program for 16-18 year old young men.


  • Compassion & positive messages
  • A healthy sense of humor
  • Patience & flexibility
  • 2-3 shelter dogs in need of socialization and functional training along with the chance to experience joy. They have been assessed to ensure the safety of all participants and the dogs’ comfort throughout the sessions. More dogs may be included during graduation’s agility session
  • Above ingredients may be “mixed” with ambassador dogs that often come with their own moving stories
  • 3 cottage steams of up to 8 youth each typically “on” their respective 3 cottages: these youth are in or are aging out of state custody
  • 2-4 Volunteers-experienced dog handlers (serve as animal advocates and coaches to youth and dogs)
  • 2 Volunteers-trained dog training assistants per session (also animal advocates and coaches to youth and dogs)
  • 2-4 Volunteer educational facilitators per session-some with specialty areas of expertise such as creating craft projects and wholesome animal treat-baking
  • Animal transporters as well as drivers to support special visitors with disabilities and their animal companions
  • Lead professional dog trainer/behaviorist-teams’ coach
  • Educational coordinator-teams’ coach
  • Special visitors: this may include but are not limited to veterinarians; people who work in varied roles in animal care; human-animal teams such as Guide Dog teams and service dog teams; people with companion animals that have experienced trauma and healing; partners such as Metro Animal Care & Control, Crossroads Pets, Southeast Guide Dog Pupraisers, Nashville PITTIE, Agape Animal Rescue, Bonaparte’s Retreat, local veterinary practices; cats (in the works)
  • Appropriate collars and leashes
  • Training treats, training treats, training treats; balls, squeaky toys and tug toys; agility equipment (3 complete sets for each team for graduation day)
  • Water bowls, water, and “pup” bags for when dogs do their business, along with hand wipes
  • Special project materials to make animal toys and wholesome animal treats to donate to rescue organizations (seek donated resources whenever possible)
  • Handouts for youth relevant to each session
  • Task lists and pointers for volunteers in coaching the youth to coach the dogs
  • Session plans



  • Reach out to Caring Connections’ and  cadre of dedicated volunteers who devote their Saturday mornings to Caring Connections youth and dogs
  • Establish schedules and coordinate teams of dogs and humans
  • Coordinate with Monroe Harding’s Education & Residential Director cottage rotations or arrangement for special sessions in the Dining Hall or elsewhere on campus (gym, fields, etc.)
  • Brief the invaluable volunteer teams before each session, reminding of safety guidelines and educational objectives for the day’s sessions
  • Observe volunteers as they respond to the often unstated individual youth’s needs for special time with calming visiting dogs and a kind ear
  • Connect with each of the Residential Counselors…As needed, consult with them by phone EARLY on Saturday morning to verify road conditions if snowy or icy weather
  • Teams connect with all youth and dogs participating in the session consistently monitoring safety, comfort, and needs of all participants at all times
  • Nurture positive reinforcement skills among the youth, coaching them in integrating all of their skills to date
  • Encourage, invite and cultivate unconditional love and appreciation between the youth and dogs
  • Seek feedback and “stories” from volunteers after each session
  • Engage volunteers in ongoing training in how to coach youth and dogs
  • Express ongoing appreciation for all who have unselfishly shared their time and skills at each session


Enjoy the joy experienced by youth, dogs, and volunteers. Celebrate every animal the youth work with whose newly learned skills and confidence may help place them in loving, forever homes…and don’t forget to share these success stories with the youth at your next session!

For more information about volunteering with Caring Connections email or call 615.712.9758.