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Matt Bryant garners Heart of the Community honors

The North Clackamas educator and his dog Velvet are honored for their work in special education

Matt Bryant, a special education teacher on assignment for the North Clackamas School District, was honored recently by the Portland Trail Blazers as recipient of a Heart of the Community award.

Bryant and his dog Velvet are a certified DoveLewis animal assisted therapy team.

They work together in the North Clackamas School District, where Bryant trains and mentors special education teachers.

Bryant visits two to three schools a day and frequently takes Velvet along. The special education students view a visit with Velvet as a reward.

'We use [a visit with Velvet] as a reward or incentive for making good choices,' said Bryant. 'For some kids a visit with Velvet is the difference between having blowouts and getting sent to the office twice a day, or having a great week.'

'Matt's expertise, combined with Velvet's special gift for teamwork has a unique effect on everyone around them,' the Blazers said in a news release. 'The pair embodies the human/animal bond, the benefits it can generate, and the incredible spirit it embodies.'

'Velvet's super loyal, super smart and super good with kids,' said Bryant.

Arianna Stadenjord, a fifth grader at Milwaukie Elementary School, accompanied Bryant to the award presentation.

'Arianna is one of our success stories,' Bryant said. 'I invited her to come along as a reward for all her hard work over the year with Velvet. [Arianna's] awesome! She's doing great!'

Bryant said Velvet visited Arianna at Milwaukie Elementary on around 30 occasions during the past year.

The local educator said the Heart of the Community award had special meaning for him as an educator.

'I really appreciated the chance to be recognized for some of the different aspects of teaching,' he said. 'The teaching profession isn't held in the highest regard in this country. There's a lot more to it than just going to work and opening a textbook.'