On Valentine’s Day 2008, after a four-year wait, Rhonda Clark was paired with the love of her life – a Black Lab/Golden Retriever mix named Art II. Art was a gift from Canine Companions for Independence. He helps Rhonda, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, be as independent as possible. “Even though I have Cerebral Palsy, it doesn’t have me, so I thought I was independent,” she says. “But Art has helped me become even more independent. He can pick up items dropped on the floor for me, turn the lights off, put the clothes in the dryer and many more things that are hard for someone who uses a wheelchair.”
But it’s not just what Art does that has helped Rhonda. More importantly, it’s what Art has taught her. “He’s the reason I get up every day,” she says. “I was abused as a child and didn’t really know how to love. Art has loved me. He has taught me how to be loved and, in turn, how to give love. The ability to receive and give love – that’s what I want to pay forward.”
Rhonda, a health care worker in Nashville, is paying it forward by volunteering for Canine Companions for Independence, a national organization that pairs service dogs with people with all types of disabilities, except for blindness. The organization was founded in 1975 with funding from Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip. It costs $50,000 to breed, train and place each service dog. Recipients receive the dogs free of charge.
That’s why Rhonda is working to raise funds for Canine Companions. She requests donations in lieu of birthday or Christmas gifts. She organizes Spirit Night fundraisers at local restaurants to raise awareness and money. She says that there has been an insurgence of fake service dogs, and people need to be aware of the work of genuine service dogs.
Rhonda’s biggest activity so far is serving with Art II as the Chair Team of a family-friendly, dog-friendly event new to Nashville called DogFest Walk ‘N Roll. The event takes place on Saturday, September 13 at Fontanel, cci.org/dogfestnashville. “I believe that together we can make a difference – one assistance dog and one person at a time.”
When asked about role models for volunteering, Rhonda credits two people. She met Julie Row while doing a communications internship at Cerebral Palsy Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Julie was the development director and Rhonda’s mentor. ”Julie taught me everything I know about fundraising, and happily we’ve reconnected since she moved to Nashville,” Rhonda says.
Her other role model was her grandfather. She says “He told me to ‘Go after what you want. Don’t hurt anybody in the process. Make a difference. Believe in God and you’ll be OK.’ He was right!”
Doing Good is proud to recognize Rhonda M. Clark as Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month for September 2014
Join the Conversation: What motivates you to volunteer? What organizations do you help? Who’s your role model for volunteering?
Blog Written by Karen E. Williams, a volunteer with Doing Good, an organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism. The website is DoingGood.tv. Nashville’s Volunteer of the Month is a free program celebrating those who make a difference and inspiring others to volunteer by sharing stories of local volunteers through media partners.