Amy Hicks is president of Helping Paws, Healing Hearts — a nonprofit organization that lets Hicks, along with her therapeutic dogs, Larry and Daryl, visit area schools to teach children about respect, kindness, dealing with life issues and how to behave.
“It’s really amazing because children often become so much more at ease and feel comfortable around dogs, particularly Larry and Daryl,” said Hicks.
Twice a week, Hicks brings her canine friends to visit students enrolled in the Day Treatment Program at the Bradley County Juvenile Center. It’s a six-week program designed for students who have behavioral issues in which counselors try to get to the root causes of the students’ conduct.
“It’s a smaller environment here at the Day Treatment program where we can focus on the students and take the time to process their behaviors. The goal is to identify what’s going on and give them the tools and resources to get them back on track,” said Emily Matthews, Day Treatment instructor.
Hicks and her pets work with the students through individual counseling, teaching classroom lessons, leading therapeutic activities, even academic lessons. “Whatever I do, I incorporate the dogs,” said Hicks.
Recently Hicks, who has a master’s degree in counseling, led a therapeutic lesson for students with the focus on “worry.”
“I gave them each a ‘worry tree’ and told them to write down their worries. But before I did that, I told them about Larry and his worries. I told them his worries are cars and loud noises because he was hit by a car when he was a puppy. By incorporating the dogs, it gets the kids to open up and talk about their worries,” she said.
Hicks explained to the students that with worry and stress, it’s important to have stress relievers, like talking about their feelings, exercising, going outside to look at sunshine or playing games on the computer.
“I just like how Larry and Daryl make you more calm because you can pet them and you don’t really have to talk with them. It’s better than doing all that deep emotional talk and stuff,” said one young boy attending the Day Treatment program.
“It’s neat having dogs in the class. I mean, no other class does that,” he added.
This is the first year Hicks began working with the Day Treatment students.
According to Terry Gallaher, Juvenile Court director at the Bradley County Juvenile Center, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Swafford was initially notified of Hicks and her organization. Hicks had a good reputation within the community, particularly Cleveland City Schools, Gallaher said.
“We called her and asked her to come in for an interview. She did, and she had a great interview,” Gallaher said. “I began reading about her organization on her website. She’s very qualified and has a very good knowledge of working with students with severe issues, including not opening up or communicating,” he added.
“We’re absolutely 100-percent pleased with what she’s done. She’s a great team member, team player. She’s very effective. We have a lot of plans to utilize her well into the future,” he said.