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These Port Moody high school students are making dogs happy while learning life skills

They're baking and selling tasty treats to raise money for the Coquitlam animal shelter
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Students in the life skills program at Heritage Woods Secondary School, including (L-R) Alicia Waet, Jazmin Thurston and Olive Charbonneau, have crafted treat bags of home-baked doggie biscuits they're selling to raise funds for the Coquitlam animal shelter.

Keeping dogs happy and healthy is teaching a group of students at Heritage Woods Secondary skills they can use to manage their own lives.

Students in the Port Moody school’s life skills program are baking, packaging, marketing and distributing dog treat bags to help raise money for the Coquitlam Animal Shelter.

Lena Chen, an education assistant with the program, says the “Pawsativity” project is helping the students learn things like communication, cooking, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

“It’s providing supports to help them connect with the community,” said Chen.

“The whole idea is to give them a hands-on experience.”

The project started with a brainstorming session amongst the 20 students enrolled in the program to come up with a team effort that encompassed a variety of practical life skills.

Alicia Waet said a visit from Brie, the school’s therapy dog, provided the inspiration toward helping animals.

“Dogs help us a lot when we’re going through a bad time,” she said.

Putting that motivation into action took a coordinated effort.

First, the team had to get Heritage Woods principal Todd Clerkson on board. Then, it had to come up with a way to produce the biscuits that would maximize their fundraising.

Clerkson drafted a letter the students could deliver to a local grocery store – the IGA at Westwood Plateau – outlining the way it could help, how the project would be managed and who it would benefit.

Heading to the store, the students’ expectations were modest, Chen said.

But moments after meeting store manager Chris O’Riordan, they were hoisting kilo bags of flour and oats, along with cartons of eggs, to their vehicle.

“It was great the kids actually came to see me, not just sent a letter,” O’Riordan said. “We just wanted to help.”

To boost the nutritive and flavourful aspects of the treats, a school staff member donated pumpkins that could be turned into a purée.

Working with students from the leadership class, the group started mixing up quadruple batches of the dough and formed them into hundreds of cookies to be sold in four-ounce bags.

Production is an all-hands effort that occurs as inventory runs low. Waet said she likes to manage the process “so it’s not very chaotic.”

Some of the students help with packaging. Others have taken up the marketing duties, selling them at lunch time from a table in the school’s atrium. One industrious young man has even noted students and teachers who have dogs and then makes the rounds to their classrooms to see if they need biscuits.

“The coolest part is to see it all come together,” Chen said.

Waet said the project has instilled in her a confidence she didn’t know she had. When the school year started she was quiet, stayed mostly in the background; but now she’s up front, taking charge.

“It’s made me feel very accomplished,” she said. “You need people to help you and support you.”

That’s the whole idea, Chen said.

“They’re learning independence. There’s that moment where you step back and see that they can do it.”

To support the “Pawsativity” project and give your own dog a special snack, you’re encouraged to email stompkins@sd43.bc.ca.

They’ll also be available at the Westwood IGA in the new year; one bag for $3 or two for $5.

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