Local students vie for $25K grant that can bring therapy dogs to Essexville-Hampton Public Schools

While Chip the Sheltie patiently waits for students to return to Verellen Elementary School, students at Garber High School have embarked on a mission to bring the Shetland Sheepdog some co-workers in the district.

An after-school program there is now competing for a $25,000 grant that would bring therapy dogs to each of the four schools in the Essexville-Hampton Public Schools district.

Ethan Shannon and Lori Flippin are lead mentors for FRC Team 5216, or The E-Ville Empire, at Garber High. The team is part of the FIRST Robotics Competition, a national network of after-school programs that compete in robotics competitions.

While robotics competitions often focus on STEM topics – or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – FIRST Robotics is different. A community service aspect is built into the organization's mission.

"It’s about more than just robots. The organization pushes its teams and mentors. It’s more than just technology; it’s about empathy," Shannon says. Lead mentor for the E-Ville Empire, Shannon is also a chemistry, AP chemistry, and AP computer science teacher at Garber High.

"The world needs good human beings, too."

And dogs.

While community service projects in each of the past several years have focused on physical safety, the most recent robotics team wanted to switch things up and focus on mental health instead. A fundraising campaign would go on to raise almost $5,000 to purchase Chip the Sheltie, a therapy dog that has been dispatched to Verellen Elementary.

Now Garber High as well as Cramer Junior High and Bush Elementary schools may get therapy dogs of their own, too.

The E-Ville Empire team’s therapy dog project has been selected as one of 200 projects nationwide, vying for the chance to win one of 40 $25,000 grants from State Farm Insurance. Shannon says that winning the grant would save five to six

All they need is the community’s votes.

"As of right now, our program is placed 15 out of 200 entries. Winning is not a pipe dream," Shannon says.

"We can do it if the community comes out and supports us."

Visit State Farm Neighborhood Assist online to vote for the Essexville-Hampton Public Schools Therapy Dog Program. Voters can vote up to 10 times a day through Oct. 2.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

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