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TL&LC’s 2023 - 2023 Volunteers of the Year

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

We were saddened to learn that our beloved "reading dog," Ben Crenshaw Neslage, passed earlier this year. Thanks to former board member Kay Neslage, Ben became a favorite for our youth programs. Kay and Ben Crenshaw would come for regular visits with the children as they took turns reading to him. His gentle demeanor coaxed even the most reading-averse to join in as Ben listened patiently. It didn't hurt that as he did, he received legions of love from the group.

Young students from The Literacy & Learning Center's after-school program waiting to be honored for their hard work

Ben Crenshaw will always hold a special place in the hearts of our students. In his memory, we have donated to the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society in hopes that other dogs will be given the opportunity to change lives like Ben was so uniquely capable of doing. However, due to Ben's profound impact on our students and how much the staff loved him, we felt compelled to take additional steps to celebrate his legacy by dedicating a dog water station for the other canine supporters of our students, their families, and community local to Bryson's Plaza.

Ben was technically a "listening dog," certified for Visitation Pet Therapy, which includes reading and listening, by Therapy Pet Pals of Texas, Inc. Their mission is to enhance the lives of the elderly and ill through pet therapy. Kay shared that as an extension of the training they provided, she also created situations for him to desensitize, such as when she walked on crutches around the house and took him into crowds in town. Ben's training and innate disposition made him a natural for the after-school and summer camp students at The Literacy & Learning Center.

But Ben was not the only joy for the students at The Literacy & Learning Center. Kay showed them patience, acceptance, guidance, and love in equal measure to her four-legged partner. In fact, they made quite the team! Children of all ages would suddenly become highly motivated to finish homework so they didn't miss the opportunity to read to Ben and Kay. And Ben was not Kay's first therapy dog. Her first was Arnold Palmer. As a qualified handler, her dedication to serving those in need by providing comfort and companionship to increase their overall well-being, Kay's philosophy of generosity is deeply woven into her daily life.

We name Ben Crenshaw and Kay Neslage as 2022 - 2023 Volunteers of the Year for their heartfelt service. Their presence is greatly missed but will forever be remembered, and Kay will always have a place here, with or without a new companion. The lives they have touched will carry their work forward.

Research shows that therapy dogs can positively affect a person's emotional state, stress, and even pain levels while interacting. In particular, children are exceptionally receptive and experience more significant benefits from visiting with these tender animals. The presence of a reading/listening dog encourages young students to be willing, if not eager, to face the fear of reading aloud and helps them remain calm during the activity through their unconditional love and non-judgmental interaction.

If you would like to learn more about how to get your dog certified or to seek the service of a therapy dog, you might contact Therapy Dogs International, Pet Partners, or the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.



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