The first meeting of a unique new program called the Junior Ambassadors Committee is being held today by The Animal Refuge Center.
For youths 10-15, this committee is for those who are interested in animals and have the will to help homeless animals and to get involved in the community.
It also will serve to give family members quality time together, a win-win, said officials. A parent must accompany the youth volunteer to all functions and meetings.
"This is truly a unique program and we are very excited about it," said ARC Board Chairman Lee Allor. "I don't know of any organization in the animal welfare world doing anything like it."
ARC is the area's largest no-kill animal shelter, with about 500 animals up for adoption at any given time.
While based in North Fort Myers, many Cape Coral individuals are involved with the organization as are those from North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres.
Allor said the program came about because so many younger people have been helping the organization at community events. At a recent adoption event at Sun Splash Family WaterPark, the daughter of a local TV anchor helped make announcements.
The idea just clicked.
"This is exciting stuff," he said. "This is bringing young people into the animal rescue world, and they and their parent become a team.
"The goal is to get them (Youth Ambassadors) out at events, to understand what we do and talk about it with conviction."
Organizations like ARC need to be in touch with young people, he added.
"Young people are the future of ARC," Allor said.
Junior Ambassadors will not be handling the animals in any unsafe manner, officials stressed, but will learn how to become their advocates.
The first meeting for the youth committee, Junior Ambassadors of ARC will be held today, Saturday, June 16, at 10 a.m. at the Petco at The Forum.
"It came from having lots of people coming to the events that are younger, interested in helping out in a way no other facility will let them," said ARC spokesperson Demica Santiago. "They'll be involved in going to events, like at Petco, and telling the public about ARC and the pets."
Several young people and their parents have already signed up, including 14-year-old Paige Santiago of Cape Coral.
She is the little sister of Santiago.
"She's a people person and likes talking to people, and she likes animals. We were thinking about kids at events, some from Cape Coral, so we recruited them," Demica Santiago said.
She added Paige is perfect for the program with her personality and love of animals.
"Paige will be going into NFM High in new school year," she said. "She said she wanted to do it to broaden her horizons, and that she chose ARC because they chose young adults to do something like this."
Next week, there will be a training program for the youths at ARC headquarters in North Fort Myers. If you are interested and miss this first meeting, you can still sign up by calling ARC.
"We're going to have an orientation next Saturday, June 23, at ARC for kids and their parents from 10 to 11 a.m.
"We are going to go through our entire facility, and then go through the animals they will be learning about, to tell the public about them. It will be more dog-oriented at events, more than cats."
There also is an opportunity for high school students who need community service hours to graduate to volunteer at ARC, said Caroline Clay, volunteer coordinator.
"We get volunteers from many areas - about 50 percent North Fort Myers and 50 percent are from Cape Coral and other nearby areas," Clay said.
For more information on either the Junior Ambassador program or any type of volunteering, call Clay at 731-3535 or visit animalrefugecenter.com or "like" ARC in Action on Facebook.
Incorporated in 1988, the Animal Refuge Center is a not-for-profit animal welfare society, dedicated to caring for all homeless animals brought to its care at its 22-acre sanctuary in North Fort Myers.
The sanctuary houses 39 canine lodges, a Canine Training Center, a Cat Adoption Center, 16 feline facilities, and is home to more than 450 cats and 80 dogs.
Petco at the Forum is at 9380 Dynasty Dr. in Fort Myers, off Colonial in The Forum Shops. For information for Petco call 938-0201.
ARC is at 18011 Old Bayshore Road in North Fort Myers, by the Lee Civic Center. For information on ARC call 731-3535.