Hand2Paw began in 2009. Rachel Cohen, then a 19 year old Penn student, started volunteering at the PAWS animal shelter in Gray’s Ferry. As she walked across the University Avenue Bridge from campus, she saw many teens taking shelter there and noticed that they often clung to a dog as a source of comfort. She was shocked and saddened by what she saw but thought about that bond and the fact that the shelter was always short of help to care for the animals and decided to put together something that would bring these two marginalized groups together to help both. She came up with the idea to take an activity teens seemed to love – caring for animals – and develop a program to support young adults experiencing homelessness or foster care by creating an environment that would allow them to develop their potential while experiencing compassion for all beings. Hand2Paw was born with a volunteer program in 2009 and we have been providing paid internships to disadvantaged youth since 2011.
In the beginning, we were all volunteer-led. We have since built capacity so that now we have a skilled staff supervising paid interns. The program has grown and changed over the years. Together, our staff has developed a specialized, evidence-based curriculum to ensure that our interns spend their time with us developing a skill set that will serve them well not only in their personal lives and future employment but also as members of their community. We strive to send our interns into the world as ambassadors of humane treatment of animals and compassion for their fellow citizens.
Our approach is to create a safe and supportive work environment where our young adults can intentionally embark on a journey of healing and growth while also earning a wage that enables them to build the life they want for themselves. We currently run three programs: Unleashing Opportunities (our flagship four to six month internship program), Pawspurr (a weekly program for those not yet ready for a full internship) and WorkReady, a summer job skills program operated by Philadelphia Youth Network.