Homegrown Heroes/Volunteer Spotlight

In honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, April 18-24, we will be showcasing several volunteers throughout the week. Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization and even though we don’t have time to share all their stories, we appreciate every one of them. We’d like to kick off the week by introducing you to a group of amazing young adults who spend their free time making a difference in their community and beyond, including helping at Farmhouse every Saturday.

Lakewood Loves Animals club was founded six years ago by Catherine Franek. This year she invited fellow teacher Jasmine Westerburger to be her co-sponsor. Jasmine an animal lover herself, gladly agreed. Catherine tells us she has had wonderful students each year; “this year is truly an exceptional year with the students’ dedication to our environment and the community”.

So, what is it that Lakewood Loves Animals does? Their mission is to help shelters and sanctuaries that help abused, and neglected animals both locally and internationally by volunteering and fundraising.  They also do environmental work to improve our environment for both animals and people so we can all enjoy the best level of life possible.

Each week these students, their sponsor Mrs. Franek and even one of the student’s father help us tackle the dirty jobs at the Farmhouse. Mrs. Franek has even made it a family affair with her husband and daughters coming out to help. What I love the most about LWLA is how eager the students are to learn about the animals’ needs and to spend quality enrichment time with them.

In addition to volunteering at FANS the club has also worked at Donte’s Den in the past and currently volunteer at Southwest Florida Therapy Animals and Prospect Riding Center. Their dedication doesn’t stop at mucking stalls and raking fields. They have made toys and held fundraisers for Honor Animal Rescue, Cat Depot, Bishop Animal Shelter, and the Humane Society of Manatee County. To get their fellow students excited about helping the environment and the community they have created flyers, chalk art and displays at their school.

Mrs. Franek also mentioned that the students were so touched by the videos from Australia last year during the wildfires that they did a fundraiser at school and within one week raised $900 dollars that we donated to the Steve Irwin Animal Hospital in Australia to help the animals affected by the wildfires.

We asked Mrs. Franek the following questions:

On average how many hours a week do you commit to your cause?

  • On average the members and myself each spend about 4 hours or more a week volunteering whether it be at the shelters or sanctuaries or collecting food to deliver to the shelters or making posters to educate other students and faculty members about issues related to animals.

What pointers would you share with someone who is thinking of becoming a volunteer?

  • Volunteer with an organization you are passionate about what they stand for or who they are helping.  When you do that, you will not only get hours for your volunteering but also feel connected to the people you are working with and the people or animals you are helping.  

If you could ask for one thing to help your cause, what would it be?

  • If we could ask for one thing to help our cause or causes it would be for people to educate themselves on all the ways that they can help animals. It is not just sending money to an organization it goes beyond that one thing.  You can volunteer your time by walking dogs at local shelters or reading books to the animals. You could use your talents by creating a blog about issues in your area or a website with animals that are available for adoption. Have a fundraiser in your neighborhood (a couple of our members who are in a band did a concert in their neighborhood and raised hundreds of dollars for a shelter). Go to rallies and show your support for animal rights. Do a beach cleanup or community cleanup. There are countless ways to help the shelters and sanctuaries.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

  • The most rewarding part of what we do is working with people that love animals as much as we do and want to make the lives of those animals the best that we can.  Also, being around those wonderful animals brings so much joy!

With Earth Day just around the corner we asked what small thing can we do to help the planet? One of the students, Emelia, commented that anyone can help contribute to making the Earth a more habitable place by investing in reusable items over single-use plastics and making sure that you are recycling items that your recycling facility accepts.

We want to thank this wonderful group of people for sharing our love of helping animals and being homegrown heroes to our Farmhouse family.