Dianne Sosnowski knew she wanted to dedicate her time to volunteering after she retired 14 years ago. So this Salem, SC resident became a volunteer with Oconee Humane Society. Having been a pet lover all her life, she found it was an easy transition for her.
Initially, Dianne worked with another volunteer in establishing a Humane Education Team who would teach local youth how to be safe around dogs, but also how to love and treat their pets with compassion.
“I’ve always had a passion for dogs – for animals in general, but more dogs than any others because I grew up with dogs,” Dianne shared. “So when I had the opportunity to work with Oconee Humane Society, I jumped right into it.”
The duo started out doing programs in local libraries, bringing their own dogs so the children could pet them. They also demonstrated for the attendees – including parents – all the right ways to care for dogs. Shortly after they started, Dianne and her friend found out that their dogs needed to be registered therapy dogs.
While her friend moved on from the organization, Dianne worked on getting her dogs trained, evaluated and registered as therapy dogs so that she could continue the program. Hudson and Brinkley, her two golden retrievers, passed their exams and became registered therapy dogs. This is when Dianne also became a member of SCDogs Therapy Group, which schedules visits not only to schools and libraries, but senior living facilities, hospitals, YMCAs, stress relief facilities, hospice and more.
“Knowing that to continue my work with Oconee Humane Society, my dogs had to become registered therapy dogs, then I became involved with SCDogs Therapy Group. And it’s just been a love fest for me to work with people and show them how important dogs are!”
Dianne now serves on the Oconee Humane Society Board of Directors as chair of Humane Education, as well as vice president and board member of SC DOGS Therapy Group. Her responsibilities include scheduling over 60 dog teams and setting up 30 visits a month. In addition, she runs quarterly team leader meetings, hosts quarterly therapy dog certification tests, serves as Chair of the Fundraising Committee for the Wags and Whiskers Gala and leads the BARK children’s reading program.
She is particularly passionate about BARK – a program to help elementary school-aged children become more comfortable with reading. The same children are assigned to the same dogs for the entire school year. Weekly, these children meet with “their dogs” and read to them. The children select books that they think the dogs will enjoy. This year, the program has 19 volunteer teams at 11 schools. And the impact on the kids is palpable.
“I was working with a little girl who was very shy,” Dianne recalled. “And she seemed to be uncomfortable with my dog, a little unsure. She was petting him but she just sat by him. We read and she struggled with the reading a little bit. I felt that I wasn’t making any headway with her in making her feel comfortable or enjoy reading. And then one day, I met her mother, and her mother said to me, ‘Oh, you’re the BARK person that my daughter works with! I have to tell you that when she wakes up on the days you read, she says, ‘Mama, this is my day to read with Hudson!’ I almost started to cry because I knew then that I was making an impact with this wonderful child.”
In fact, at the elementary school that Hudson and Dianne visit every week, all the children in the school know the dog’s name. They say, “Hudson’s here! We get to hug Hudson!” This enthusiasm brings so much joy to Dianne and keeps her energized about the visits.
“I think until you get involved with volunteerism, you don’t recognize the impact that you can make,” Dianne said. “One person makes such an impact on other people in the community, whether it be working with dogs, working with a food bank, working with your church… Until you get involved, you just don’t recognize the impact you can have.”
Dianne has seen the myriad ways that volunteers contribute to the health of the organizations she works with. She knows that these nonprofits simply could not survive without their volunteers’ contributions of time and talent.
With all of the volunteering that she does, Dianne has some advice for those who might be considering volunteering but are nervous to step out: “I would check out all of the nonprofit organizations in your area and see what may interest you. I started small, with humane education at one organization. Then, the more and more you get involved, you want to do more. It could be the smallest thing, but you can make such an impact on people.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Dianne? Find local volunteer opportunities.