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A teen and her dog make weekly visits to assisted living home, earning award

spirit of humanity

Alex Burnham started the visits as part of a project to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award. But even after earning the award, the weekly visits have continued, and she's now the recipient of a Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

Resident Irma Porter pets Lucy as she and her owner Alexandra Burnham visit residents at the Beehive Homes in Farmington, N.M.
Jon Austria /The Daily Times/AP
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  • Leigh Black Irvin
    Farmington Daily Times/Associated Press

A New Mexico girl and her dog are making a big impression on residents at an assisted living community.

Thirteen-year-old Alex Burnham, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Farmington, N.M., recently won a Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her work.

For the past year, Burnham and her mother, Carly Burnham, have brought Lucy, a 3-year-old Labrador retriever mix from an animal shelter, to interact with the 12 residents at BeeHive Homes, an assisted living facility in Farmington. The trio visits the home every Tuesday during the teenager's lunch hour.

Burnham started the visits as part of a project to earn her Girl Scout silver award. But even after earning the award, the weekly visits continued.

"I knew it was the right project for her because even when she's having a bad day, she still puts in the time to train Lucy – she really likes doing it," said the teenager's mom. "It's the volunteer project that just keeps on going."

Before Lucy could visit BeeHive Homes residents, she had to attend weekly obedience training. At the end of the 50-hour training, she earned a "Canine Good Citizenship" designation and was given the go-ahead to visit BeeHive residents.

"She had to learn to sit and get down when I tell her, and how to be alone with other people when I'm not there," said Alex Burnham. "She also had to get used to loud noises and learn to be calm around other dogs, and she can never bark or bite."

Burnham said she hopes to eventually have Lucy certified as therapy dog.

On a recent Tuesday, Burnham walked Lucy up to several residents who smiled and pulled the dog close.

"When they approached me about the idea of bringing Lucy in, I thought, 'What's better than animals and kids?' " said Starla Thompson, activities director for the assisted living home. "It's good for the residents, and it's good for Alex. She and her mom also brought Valentine's Day cards for the residents [in February]. We've really formed a friendship with her."

BeeHive resident Irma Porter looks forward to Lucy's visits. Porter loves dogs so much that she keeps photos and other dog-related items in her room, according to Thompson.

"I really like the dog," Porter said. "I would like to see her every day if I could."

To win the Prudential award, Burnham wrote a 750-word essay about her experience training Lucy and volunteering at the home.

"I got the results a couple of weeks ago and learned that in addition to the all-expense-paid trip for me and my mom to go to Washington, D.C., I get $1,000," she said. "I'll also get to do a service project while I'm there, passing out books to children and reading to them. I'm so excited."

The teen's mom was also awarded a presidential service award and recently learned that New Mexico state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, honored her in the state Senate for her contributions to the community.

"We didn't even know about that until (Sharer) sent us the certificate," said Carly Burnham.