The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed down many businesses and organizations over the past three and a half months, but Timothy’s Helping Heroes has seen demand for its services ramp up.
The Mantua-based nonprofit was founded last year by Timothy Phillips, a disabled Navy veteran and dog trainer. Phillips, who has his own service dog to assist him with post-traumatic stress disorder, started the organization with the goal of training service dogs for other disabled veterans and first- rounders at no cost. One year later, the organization has trained about 15 dogs and has seen even more people reach out over the past few months.
“I love it with a passion,” Phillips said of the organization.
Timothy’s Helping Heroes Vice President Andrea Hanson said things slowed down a bit in the first few weeks of the pandemic in early spring. A short time later, however, the organization began to receive an overwhelming amount of demand from people interested in receiving a service dog
“Once that initial wave left and we got our bearings with the safest way to keep operating, we’ve been talking to way more people,” Hanson said.
“In some ways, we’ve actually gotten busier because people are finding more time to do the research on getting the help they need.”
Hanson and Phillips do the vast majority of the training for the nonprofit, taking in dogs either from handlers who would like them to go through service training or donated dogs the organization trains and then later partners with a handler in need of a service dog. The organization is based out of Buck’s Dog Training, located on Bridgeton Pike in Mantua.
“The dog could be in training with us anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on what it needs and what the tasks are that we need to train,” Hanson said in describing the training process. “But it doesn’t necessarily graduate in that time frame until we’ve done follow-ups to make sure the owner is able to handle the dog and we’ve gone out in public with the dog and the owner and it’s all good. That’s our name on the line. We don’t want to just send them home and say your dog is a service dog and then they’re not listening.”
Both Phillips and Hanson described the process as very rewarding, but acknowledged it can also be exhausting. When the dogs aren’t at the training facility, Hanson and Phillips bring them home. The two are now considering adding volunteers to the organization.
“It’s mostly Tim and myself that do everything,” Hanson said with a laugh. “Something else we’ve grown into is we’re now discussing volunteers. Do we start looking into people that can foster a dog that got donated to us until we have someone matched or can we bring them in for the training?”
Volunteers would allow the organization to expand in a few areas. The constant training of the dogs means there’s less time for Phillips and Hanson to spend on marketing and fundraising. The pandemic has caused some of the organization’s planned fundraisers to be postponed. Since its founding, Timothy’s Helping Heroes has raised a little less than $10,000. More funds will be increasingly crucial as the organization expands.
“With how busy we are getting, we are booked two to three months out, at least, with it just being two of us” Hanson said. “Fundraising is definitely going to be a focus once everything opens up again. Getting volunteers on board is going to be a focus so that we’re not exhausted all the time. But also, with volunteers, we still want to be able to provide the food if it’s not an owner’s dog that’s in. We get dogs donated sometimes, so we’re taking care of food and bedding.”
Hanson added the organization’s search for volunteers goes beyond foster families or trainers. Timothy’s Helping Heroes is willing to speak with anyone interested in coming on board who has skills to offer. Hanson cited marketing as one area where it could use help, saying the organization would like someone who is knowledgeable about social media and has the time to interact with followers on those platforms.
The expansion through volunteers and fundraising is crucial for Timothy’s Helping Heroes moving forward. Among the organization’s goals are to cut down on the costs and time it takes for disabled military or first responders to acquire a service dog and Phillips and Hanson want to stick to that mission.
“I don’t want to have people waiting for more than six months,” Hanson said. “If that comes back to being able to find the volunteers and having the funding to do that, that’s what we’ll focus on.”
The need for volunteers and fundraising is a sign of the success Timothy’s Helping Heroes has had over the past year. Hanson said her favorite part of working with the organization is when she gets to link up a handler with a service dog.
“It’s to watch these people just have that relief and happiness wash over them that they don’t have to wait or they don’t have to drain their life savings,” Hanson said.
“When they get the dog back, you get to watch that relief and happiness all over again.”
Phillips said Timothy’s Helping Heroes has become everything he hoped it would be and he is proud of the impact his organization has had on the lives of others.
“I would do everything to do it all over again in a heartbeat,” he said about founding the organization.
For more information on Timothy’s Helping Heroes or to donate, visit http://timothyshelpingheroes.org.