The women’s program at Delaney Hall Residential Reentry Center in Newark, New Jersey recently played host to a very special visitor: therapy dog Allie of Morris Plains-based nonprofit Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs, along with her handler, Paula Lopez.
Staff at the residential reentry center run by GEO Reentry Services invited the pair to come offer residents some canine comfort from a furry friend. Bright & Beautiful trains teams of therapy dogs to offer humans their signature unconditional love proven to help boost self-esteem, soothe personal trauma, and relieve loneliness and boredom.
During her first visit, the three-year old English Cream Retriever spent around two hours with residents and staff, allowing participants to simply spend time with her, pet her and offer her treats. Allie sat with one woman whose mother had been killed and comforted her as she cried, while another woman let Allie lie near her feet, even though she feared dogs since her abuser had used his as a weapon against her.
“There is something special about the way Allie relates to those with special needs,” said Ms. Lopez, a volunteer with the organization. “She is patient and waits for the client to open up. This is particularly important for those living with depression, low self-esteem, PTSD and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.”
Through Bright & Beautiful, Ms. Lopez and Allie have serviced schools, grief counselors, children’s reading programs and mental health programs throughout the state, including working with young men ages 15-21 at the Middlesex Juvenile Detention Center. The program was later expanded to the Garden State Youth Facility, where Allie spent time with correctional officers and staff.
“It’s our ultimate goal to create a therapeutic bond between Allie and our female residents,” said Delaney Hall Assistant Facility Director of Programs Kristin SanFilippo. “We’d also like to expand the program to allow additional populations to experience the positive impact of repeated therapy sessions.”
In addition to therapeutic activities in collaboration with community partners such as Bright & Beautiful, GEO Reentry’s evidence-based programming at Delaney Hall also consists of substance abuse programming, cognitive behavioral treatment, individual and group counseling, lifestyle change curriculum, educational and GED services, and alumni/aftercare programs, as well as access to local services and programs that help support successful reentry into the community.