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Pennies for puppies

It’s never too soon to learn the importance — and joys — of community service.

Preschool students from Early Learning Matters in Hillsboro got a first taste of community service with a project they chose. Last week, that project culminated in a field trip to the Bonnie L. Hays Animal Shelter to deliver dog and cat food, toys and treats, and a check for $160.

Early Learning Matters is a licensed “Leader in Me” school, which helps children develop the confidence and traits to become a leader, says owner and director Kandy Dicken.

The school’s 76 students, ages 3 to 6, and their families embarked upon their first community service project with gusto, Dicken said.

“We had such a great response from families and the kids.”

Over several weeks, children brought in pennies to drop in a collection jar — sometimes three or four, sometimes a whole handful. What they learned is that every penny counts.

The children also tracked the pets up for adoption at the shelter through the shelter’s website. They could see a photo of a dog or cat that was up for adoption and see when that animal found a “forever home.”

When the penny and food drive was over, the children had a hand in sorting the food and the toys.

According to Dicken, they also counted and rolled the pennies.

“They loved that,” she said.

During the tour of the shelter, volunteer Shirley Toth explained how shelter staff cares for the animals and tries to find their owners. She also gave the children some advice on how to keep their own pets safe.

“Microchips are the best way” to return a lost pet to its owner, Toth told the kids. They don’t microchip fish, Toth told one young girl who volunteered that she had a fish.

Take extra care to keep pets safe on the Fourth of July, Toth advised. That’s the shelter’s busiest day of the year. Last year, the shelter had 47 strays on July 4.

Finally, the children got to meet some of the adoptable cats and dogs that will benefit from their donations.

“The kids can really relate to caring for the animals,” Dicken said.

Her hope is that this first experience with community service will inspire a generation of young people who strive to give back.

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