Tag Archive for: WCC Volunteer

Fran Frazier: Puppy Photographer, Chocolate Chip-Cookie Maker and Standout Volunteer

Wednesdays are Fran Frazier’s favorite day of the week. Before the pandemic, that’s the day she would make the 45-minute drive from her home in Northern Virginia to the Warrior Canine Connection Healing Quarters in Boyds, Maryland to take photographs of the puppies on-site.

You know the ones — the adorable pics that chronicle the growth and development of the puppies each week, sometimes they even include sunglasses or some other holiday-related décor… they’re the photos that result in countless oohs and ahhs from WCC’s followers on Facebook and all of us, really.

“It fills the heart — you can’t help but be happy while you’re there, especially knowing they have such important jobs ahead, it’s thrilling to be part of their early stages,” said Fran.

Fran says she feels like an “imposter” photographing the puppies. That’s because she spent two years assisting Lori Marshall, the previous WCC volunteer photographer, with the weekly photos. Fran says she learned a lot from Lori, including setting up lights, the backdrop stand and advanced puppy cuddling techniques (Fran refers to Lori as “the puppy whisperer”). When Lori left, Fran and a couple other volunteers stepped in to give photography and puppy-wrangling a shot. That was more than a year ago now.

In fact, Fran’s been so inspired by the process that she upgraded her iPhone camera to a real one, although she confesses, shooting and editing photos is a process she’s still finetuning.

Fran won’t take all the photo credit, though; she’s quick to tell you that there are two-to-three volunteers who show up each week to take photos — notably, Paula McCorry, Kristen Durning and Sally Katz, and she says that the photos wouldn’t happen without them.

When you ask Fran about herself, take note not to use the word “retired” — that’s not a term in her vocabulary. As she will tell you, she “opened a new chapter” in her life several years ago, after decades of working in the nonprofit sector and with government and trade associations. She’ll tell you through a smile, this next chapter includes puppy photography and the pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe — something that is also synonymous with Fran around WCC’s headquarters.

“She’s going to need to find a new hobby, because if you ask me, she’s ALREADY perfected her chocolate chip recipe,” Allison Pitcher, digital communications specialist, WCC. “We love her cookies but hate them at the same time — for those of us trying to watch our sugar intake.”

Not long after one new chapter began for Fran, another ended — this one, the unexpected, heartbreaking, life-changing kind: Fran’s husband, Tim Henline, who was also very involved in volunteering for WCC, passed away in November 2019.

Both Fran and Tim got involved with WCC in 2013 after seeing how important a friend’s service dog was to her. They knew they wanted to somehow get involved and discovered WCC. By sheer fluke, Fran says she found the WCC puppy cam on Explore.org and knew they had to get involved. The duo began puppy petting early on, which evolved into helping with the whelping box and other duties.

“Tim and I were/are so proud to help support the organization and its mission and grateful for the opportunity to do so,” said Fran. “WCC was so very supportive during Tim’s illness and passing…. it sure is an amazing group of people. And it continues to be a very important and supportive chapter for me. What began as puppy petting became such a special part of our lives, and having Mackie and Ann fill our hearts and home is a truly special gift,” said Fran.

Fran and Tim also became caretakers to breeder dog Ann, who has had three beautiful litters of pups. They were also delighted to welcome Mackie, a wonderful career-change Golden Retriever, into their home.

Fran says she can’t help but continue using the word “we” when sharing stories and information about her life. Since losing Tim, she says life has been an adjustment. But having Ann and Mackie is slowly but surely helping her round out her days.

“The opportunity, in any way possible, to support WCC’s mission to help recovering Warriors reconnect with life, their families, their communities, and each other is truly an honor and a privilege,” said Fran. “We are so very grateful to those who serve this Nation.”  

WCC’s on-site volunteer program has been halted since March, except for only mission-critical needs. Warrior Canine Connection is excited and hopeful about having our volunteers back on-site when it’s safe and responsible to do so.

A Round of A-Paws for WCC Volunteer Karen Chiu

Like most people across the United States, WCC puppy parent Karen Chiu has been working from home for almost three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been observing the “stay at home” policy enacted in California, except for necessary trips for food, essential supplies and, of course, dog walks for Frank. 
A WCC service dog-in-training, Frank is a one-year-old Golden Retriever — the sixth WCC dog that Karen has helped train. And the sixth to capture her heart. 
“There’s just something about dogs…they’re loyal, they always have love for you, they’re always happy to see you and there’s never any judgment with dogs,” says Karen. “They see a human, they love them, and they are always there for them.” 

First came Jenny. Then Katie. Then Lisa, who was followed by Greg and then Tommy. And now, of course, Frank, or “Frankie” as Karen calls him. 

Like so many of WCC’s volunteers, Karen discovered WCC through the Explore.org puppy cam back in 2015. Shortly after, she found out about its Menlo Park location in California, started volunteering, and has been hooked ever since. 
“I love the work that WCC is doing here in Calif., where the dogs are working with Veterans almost daily,” said Karen. “It’s really awesome to hear their stories, even from those who help train the dogs. It’s so awesome to hear how these dogs are changing their lives and see the impact they’re having on them.” 

Besides helping to care, feed and train six dogs, Karen’s attached her name to numerous other events to help WCC, including past graduations and fundraising events. All WCC has to do is cite the need, and Karen’s name can be found on the list of those willing to help. 
“Karen is a great source of historical dog information and she plays a huge role in supporting the West Coast WCC site,” said Alexis Baker, California Program Manager. “She’s an incredibly experienced puppy parent, and willing to go the extra mile for her dogs in whatever ways they need. She’s also an amazing social media maven and has singlehandedly fulfilled our Wishlist twice in the last 12 months. Because of her and her amazing skills, we have access to a lot of supplies for our dogs and veterans to use during training.  

Together, Karen and Frank are continuing their WCC service dog training virtually. Although they attend their weekly classes via computer, Karen senses “Frankie” is missing his in-person interaction with the Veterans with which he regularly works. 
He recognizes people on the calls — his ears perk up when he hears their voices,” says Karen. “He’s such a social fellow, there’s no doubt he’s missing that regular close connection he had with the Veterans.” 

Both Karen and Frank hope it’s just a matter of time until they’re able to return to in-person training but, in the meantime, they’re subscribing to their training schedule and enjoy sharing some of their new lessons, at-home adventures and antics on Frank’s Facebook page.  

Thank you, Karen, for sharing your time, talents and treasures with WCC! 



Robin Martin: A Pawsitively Outstanding WCC Volunteer

Since Robin Martin began volunteering with Warrior Canine Connection in 2012, she’s had a running tally of 22 dogs who’ve been in out and of her house — and her heart. She has been puppy parent to five dogs, helped train several spirited dogs and she’s puppy sat countless others.
Currently, Robin is puppy parent to WCC service dogs in training, Manion and Mike II. She and husband, Kent, live in Cleveland, South Carolina, which is roughly an hour away from Asheville, North Carolina; that’s where WCC runs a service dog training program in conjunction with the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC). It’s a program Robin says resonates with her in more ways than one.  

“It’s the mission  the whole Veteran mission,” says RobinMy Dad was a Veteran and he served three tours in Vietnam. I was an Army nurse and served at the old Water Reed. It’s something I believe in; I’ve seen what these dogs can do. I love every second of it, every minute of it — right down to every piece of dog hair in the house.”  

The Buncombe County VTC program included WCC’s service dog training in its programming in 2018.  Since then, it has become one of the most popular programs among the Veterans involved — a program that Robin has played a huge part in. In fact, WCC Service Dog Training Instructor Amy Guidash says Robin’s help has made it possible for WCC to take on several additional Veterans groups that are now participating in WCC’s Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) training program, including the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville and FIRST at Blue Ridge, a residential therapeutic community for individuals and Veterans with substance abuse disorders. 
“Robin is a strong handler who takes on some of the more challenging dogs on purpose,” said Amy Guidash“Her consistency is what we know to be really helpful. She wants the dogs to succeed, and she’ll be the first one to say, ‘hey, you know this dog isn’t a pet, right?’ She is 100-percent dedicated to fulfilling the standards WCC upholds. Robin can be direct, yet is open, confident and friendly at the same time, which allows for great communication with the Veterans. She is an absolute joy to be around, and we’re just so thankful that she’s part of the Asheville program.” 

Robin got involved with WCC while working for The Home Depotwhere she spent 20 years as a District Service Manager. In fact, it was Alice Belthoff, whose name you may recognize as an Extreme Puppy Watcher (EPW) and a dedicated WCC volunteer, who first connected with Robin back in 2012; she sent a letter to The Home Depot requesting some assistance for the old WCC property in Brookeville. The note was forwarded to Robin from the local store manager, and shortly after, she went out to the old WCC headquarters, where she met Rick (Founder of WCC) and Molly (WCC Director of Dog Programs) for the first time. 
“While I was there visiting, Molly put a puppy in my arms and it was game over,” said Robin. “I filled out an application right away, completed the required training and was a puppy parent before long. The Home Depot was great and helped provide all of the materials and manpower to convert the garage at the old Brookeville headquarters into WCC’s first Puppy Enrichment Center, and I’ve been hooked ever since.” 

So hooked that Robin and Kent, who have both since retired and had planned to move to from Maryland to South Carolina to slow down and leave the bustle of D.C.actually postponed their move until they knew the WCC program at the VTC in Buncombe County, N.C. was up and running, so as not to miss a beat. 
First, there was Flurry, then Tommy, followed by Calli, and now Manion and Mike II, no matter how many dogs pass through her doors, Robin says each one leaves its own impact. 

“[Said through tears] A little piece of your heart goes every time you pass that leash,” says RobinThere’s no way you can raise these dogs for 18 months to two years and not become attached, because they don’t trust you if you don’t love them, so you have to love them to get them to do what you want them to do. And it’s so worth it seeing them go on to help our Veterans.” 
While the dogs go on to serve a bigger purpose, Robin says one thing she finds unchanged is the friendships and connections she’s built through WCC.  
I have four children and four grandchildren but the EPW community has expanded my family,” said RobinWe have such a network of support… my mother’s in a nursing home, and on my tough days, I can reach out to any single EPW and they are there to support us — just like we are for all of them. It’s such a special community; I have life-long friends now and people I go on vacation with, and it all dates to the first “paw-ty” in Brookeville.”  

Please join us in giving Robin a round of “a-paws” for her unwavering commitment, dedication and support of WCC’s programs, the Veterans it serves and all the people she’s touched along the way. 

Wendy Notari, Warrior Canine Connection Volunteer, Receives 2019 Governor’s Service Award

Photo Credit: Maryland Judiciary

October 21, 2019

BOYDS, Md. – One of Warrior Canine Connection’s own pack members, volunteer Wendy Notari, will receive high honors today; she is being awarded the Maryland Governor’s 2019 Service Award for her exemplary dedication, time and selfless service to the nonprofit, which breeds, trains and places service dogs with Service Members and Veterans with visible and invisible wounds.

“WCC’s most inspiring achievements are not measured in dollars, rather in the spirit of our volunteers, like Wendy Notari and her noble work on behalf of others and our organization,” said Rick Yount, founder and executive director, WCC. “This award couldn’t be more well-deserved and is a powerful testament to Wendy’s dedication and passion for serving our community and our nation’s Veterans.”

Wendy Notari began volunteering with WCC in December 2016. Since then, she’s performed every task asked of her, including whelping, working with service dogs in training, being a puppy parent and volunteering at community events. Most recently, she began volunteering with WCC at the Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) in Baltimore City, where she travels every Tuesday to volunteer her time serving as a liaison between the service dogs in training and the Veteran participants. In 2018 alone, Wendy volunteered an astounding 1,332 hours with WCC in a variety of roles.

“I am very honored to be recognized for something that is immensely rewarding for me and brings so much joy to my life,” said Wendy Notari. “Supporting Warrior Canine Connection’s mission of serving the Veteran community has been incredibly fulfilling to me. Prior to joining WCC, my life had revolved around raising my three boys. When they all moved on to college, I wasn’t sure how to fill my sudden abundance of time. I volunteered with several other organizations that served the homeless and underprivileged and found it rewarding, but I truly found my passion helping to raise service dogs for Veterans. I am inspired every day by the way these dogs touch the lives of everyone they meet, particularly our nation’s wounded Warriors. I am the lucky one to have found this opportunity with Warrior Canine Connection.”

The Governor’s Service Awards are presented by the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism each year. The award recognizes Marylanders for their significant volunteer contributions to the state and its citizens and their work to change Maryland for the better. This year, the awards recognized volunteer service during 2018.

For more information, please contact Beth Bourgeois, Warrior Canine Connection, at beth.bourgeois@warriorcanineconnection.org or 719-216-3206.


About Warrior Canine Connection
Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, and help in reintegrating back into their families and communities. For more information, visit www.warriorcanineconnection.org.  


WCC Puppies Helping to Heal A Broken Heart

September will mark two years since Peggy Lester’s daughter, Beth, passed away. Although time slips by, the heartbreak never will. 

“She was such a wonderful, happy person, a great mom, wife, friend and daughter,” says Peggy.  

Beth went to college in Georgia, got married and had two children, Emma and Evan, and lived in the home she’d always dreamt about. She had everything in life she wanted.   

But in 2015, she began having some concerning medical issues. Soon after, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. By the time it had been discovered, it was too late.  

From there, Peggy, a single parent, endured an intense, year-plus journey into the world of caregiving; she retired early from her job working with special ed students so she could travel back and forth from Maryland to Atlanta to look after her daughter and help out the family. Sadly, Beth passed away in September of 2017 at the age of only 45.   

“I was there when she came into the world and I was lying at her side holding her hand when she passed. She was at peace, so I’m thankful for that,” says Peggy.   

When Peggy returned home to Maryland — a huge piece of her heart missing — she completely shut down with immeasurable grief. Knowing she had to do something, Peggy joined a support group for people, like her, who had had lost a child.  

She also started seeing a therapist who happened to have been a volunteer at WCC. Knowing Peggy enjoyed dogs, her therapist recommended she sign up for puppy petting.  

“I could not sleep at night and kept reliving the day that Beth passed and all of the traumatic memories of that day, so I got involved with whelping training and started doing overnight shifts,” said Peggy. “I wasn’t ready to be around people, and volunteering at WCC helped edge me back into the world again. Not to mention, the puppies and mamas kept me so busy, and it just really worked for me. I credit the wonderful WCC staff and dogs with giving me the support that I needed at the time.”  

In fact, to-date, Peggy has logged more than 340 hours volunteering at WCC.  

“I didn’t go in thinking it was about me, but it really did end up being therapeutic for me too,” says Peggy. “It gave me purpose, made me feel useful, and helped get me out of the house and, at the same time, it also gave me my space to grieve. I know they’re being trained for our Veterans, but these dogs are also helping to heal so many others along the way.”  

Peggy still makes regular trips to Atlanta to see her grandchildren and son-in-law, Mike.  July 18th was Beth’s birthday. And although September will undoubtedly be another tough month ahead, Peggy says one thing she is looking forward to is attending her first WCC graduation.  

School Service Project Sparks Passion

What started as a school community service project has turned into a true passion for 16-year-old Shira Studley. She’s volunteered well over 50 hours at WCC puppy petting, cleaning kennels, handling administrative work and doing everything in between.

Shira’s high school, Holton-Arms, requires all students to complete a community service project to graduate. The 50 hours have come and gone but, sure enough, every Monday afternoon, Shira can be found at the WCC Healing Quarters completing any task asked of her.

A close family friend, who Shira affectionately refers to as her “uncle,” served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Marine Corps and has since struggled with post-traumatic stress. She says his experience, as well as his commitment to service, are part of what inspired her to donate her time to WCC.

“Volunteering at WCC is the perfect combination of helping Veterans and my love of dogs,” says Shira. “Seeing the bond that’s created between Veterans and these service dogs is absolutely amazing.”

Shira’s classmates volunteer for many other great organizations but she is the only student who gets to work with service dogs in training. Shira learned about the opportunity through a friend who had previously was volunteering to puppy pet and Shira said she knew it was where she wanted to get involved.

“I love WCC’s mission and have always possessed a natural comfort working with animals, especially dogs,” says Shira. “I have always found dogs to be animals that desire companionship and are able to give love. When they receive those things from humans they tend to reciprocate and form a real bond. I think companionship is a huge part of why dogs connect so well with humans, they are such social animals.”

Shira has two dogs of her own and says she has been astounded by the time, practice and patience that goes into all the training.

“I wish I could spend more time with trainers because my dogs could definitely use some lessons,” says Shira. “I have learned that it takes a lot of time and dedication to get a dog ready for this kind of service.”

She’s got a few years to figure it out, but Shira says there’s no doubt she wants to pursue a career that involves working with dogs and other animals.

Thank you, Shira!