When Tamyra Howard received a call from “Paws for Friends,” a non-profit pet therapy organization, she sensed an opportunity to make a difference. The call was more than just an invitation; it was an opportunity for Howard to return to
her home branch. Howard became a patron of the Willa Cather Branch after becoming pregnant with her first child, 28 years ago. Willa Cather Branch was a huge part of her children’s childhood–from the Summer Reading Program every year to the fond memories of checking out books and reading as a family. Once her children became adults, she missed the routine and comfort the library provided. Volunteering to Read to a Dog provided an opportunity to return to a place full of happy memories. Without hesitation, Howard returned to OPL to be with kids and encourage reading.
Five years ago, Howard adopted a golden retriever named Pip and planned to get her certified and trained for therapy work. As an elementary school teacher, Howard envisioned taking Pip to schools or hospitals. Pip took puppy classes at the Nebraska Humane Society, and from there she transitioned into therapy-focused training to then pass the required tests to start providing service. Pip’s first job as a certified therapy dog was at St. Thomas More Catholic School for Howard’s prekindergarten class. After her success in the classroom, Howard and Pip moved on to Read to a Dog at Willa Cather Branch.
At the beginning of each Read to a Dog session, Howard asks the children and teens what they like to read and if they feel comfortable reading out loud. If they don’t, she offers to read to them while they pet Pip. Learning to read and reading out loud can cause anxiety, but entering a judgment-free space and petting a therapy animal can reduce those triggers in Howard’s experience. After teaching for nineteen years at St. Thomas More, Howard can now easily evaluate if the readers need encouragement or support. “There are days, like the beginning of a school year, that leave you exhausted. On the rare days when I feel too tired to volunteer, I come anyway. Because when Pip and I sit down with the kids, they do or say something that reminds me why I came.”
Howard and her family are passionate about helping their community. On the first Monday of each month, they purchase food with donations from their church to make meals for the homeless at the Stephen Center. Howard and her husband also volunteer for a teen summer camp called “Go Beyond,” in which they take inner city kids to Wyoming to explore the outdoors and experience different activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking. “I think it’s fantastic to do any kind of volunteer work. Whenever you do things for others, you are not only helping them, but also yourself,” she says. “I am so grateful that libraries are still around, and volunteering at OPL is a great way to show that you still care about them.”
If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering at OPL, visit your neighborhood branch or omahalibrary.org/volunteer to apply.