Good morning, Washington! Today on “7 Questions,” we are welcoming … Ruth Benker, Director of Communications at Fairfax Pets on Wheels! Providing therapeutic visits (and much needed-company) for nursing home patients and assisted living residents, friendly pets and trained volunteers visit 10 facilities with a total of 1,328 beds. They know never to underestimate the power of the human/animal bond!
1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?
As the Director of Communications, I am responsible for getting the word out about our wonderful program. The Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) filmed Fairfax Pets on Wheels as part of a documentary that they are doing to inspire volunteerism in South Korea. They want to show how Americans work together in order to cope with the nation’s current economic crisis and provide services in the community. Their film crew joined FPOW volunteers during a visit at one of our nursing homes in December, at one of our monthly orientations for new volunteers, and at a temperament test for potential new pet volunteers in January. We were honored to have been selected by KBS to be a part of their project.
2. What else are you up to?
Recruiting new volunteers! Given the nature of our work with our pets, we are constantly looking for new volunteers — I recently lost my beloved dog and so, for now, am visiting our “favorite” residents without a pet. Getting the word out, to veterinary offices, pet related businesses and groups, keeps me pretty busy.
3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?
Nineteen years ago, with my first dog, I saw a brochure in the vet’s office for Fairfax Pets on Wheels — being able to spend time with my dog AND give back to the community at the same time was a real draw for me.
4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?
The founder of our program, Kim Wilkerson. Nearly 24 years ago, she saw a need in the community to provide pet therapy in nursing homes. She along with a couple of friends just informally started visiting with their dogs. And here we are, today, a 501 (c) (3), all volunteer organization, sponsored by the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging, with 250+ volunteer teams giving over 8,000 hours of service to the community every year. Kim is still actively involved in the program — she is an inspiration to me.
5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?
Dealing with loss as staying motivated to return to visit the nursing home. Our volunteers deal with the loss of pets (a critical piece of our volunteer work), as well as loss of residents with whom we get close. Many volunteers find they need to take a break when they have suffered the loss of their pet and/or a resident with whom they had gotten close.
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?
People who want to get involved with us do so because they want to serve.
Our visiting pet teams need to be able to visit in a nursing home (many folks find this difficult to do), which is why we always offer potential new volunteers an opportunity to accompany us without their pet on a visit to a nursing home before they go through the process to become a volunteer. Unfortunately, few people take us up on this offer before deciding that they really don’t want to do it. Life is too short to do something that you really don’t enjoy or like and it’s okay for an individual to admit that visiting a nursing home is not their cup of tea. There are so many volunteer opportunities out there in the community where you can find a better fit and be happy about your volunteering.
7. What’s next?
Producing a new video that can be used as a public relations piece without “breaking the bank.”
EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?
Warren Buffet — for his common sense advice on investments and philanthropic generosity;
Mother Teresa — for her inspiration on selflessness and giving to others;
Lucille Ball — for her sense of humor.