Stephanie Garcia, 15, a member of Jefferson County 4-H and a freshman at Mercy Academy High School, raised more than $20,000 to provide bulletproof vests for 34 police dogs in four states. “It made me sad when I heard the story of a brave K9 that lost his life protecting his human partner,” said Stephanie, who also has experienced the sorrow of losing a dog. Police dogs, she said, “are one of the best tools the police departments have,” and “deserve to have the same protection their partners have.” Realizing that many police budgets don’t have money for dog vests, Stephanie decided to start her own project, called “Heroes on Paws.” She contacted the local K9 unit to get approval for her project, then asked members of her 4-H Dog Club for help. Stephanie and her group of volunteers placed donation cans at local businesses, posted flyers, created a website, contacted news media, and spoke at public meetings. Stephanie also organized two “dog walks,” and has sold T-shirts and tote bags to raise additional funds. Stephanie is now talking to other 4-H clubs throughout her state to help them start their own community service projects. She is also expanding Heroes on Paws with projects to help other dogs who improve the lives of people such as assisted living and pet therapy dogs.
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