A group of high school students at Garber High School in Essexville are looking to make a positive impact on the community for years to come.
The E-Ville Empire Garber Robotics team came up with the idea at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
"The idea came from us having all of our physical safety aspects on our team. It's a really big push because if we are building a 120-pound robot, we don't want to have any injuries or doing anything they really shouldn't be," said junior Emma Miller. "So we have that aspect pretty much covered, but what we didn't have as much of a focus on is mental health which is equally as important.
The team decided on therapy dogs, feeling it would have the biggest impact on the team as well as the community.
According to the team: Mental health is a pressing issue in our area. In 2019, a study by the University of Michigan classified Bay County as one of only 6 in Michigan as an area with high opioid death rate that was also accompanied by low numbers of treatment options for addiction. The number of opioid related deaths in Bay County also continues to rise above the national average. Suicide rate among young people also continues to climb in the area with 9.1 suicides per 100,000 young people per year reported in August of 2019 for a study through the 2017 calendar year. This ranks Bay county 29th of Michigan’s 83 counties at a rate that is 34% higher than the national average. EHPS is designing intervention programs that include the use of therapy dogs to combat the underlying mental health issues that exhibit symptoms of depression, suicide, and addiction. Through a variety of studies, therapy dogs have been shown to enhance self-esteem, increase prosocial behaviors and reduce loneliness.
They started heavily planning in October of 2019, which included finding funding for the four dogs.
In the last year the team has raised nearly $5,000 which went straight to bringing in their first dog, Chip.
Once full-time in-person classes resume, Chip will be in Verellen Elementary on a full-time bases.
But now, three more dogs are needed and the team is estimating it will cost between $8,000 and $10,000 per animal based on breed and training needed.
State Farm Service Grant
That is when the team discovered the service grant through State Farm Insurance, which would bring in $25,000.
They were one of 2,000 initial applicants which were then narrowed down by State Farm to 200.
Now the top 200 applicants are competing against each other to make it into the top 40.
Each top 40 applicant will receive the $25,000 grant.
Here's how you can help
The team needs you to vote.
The top 40 teams will be determined by community voting.
Here is where you can vote:
- State Farm website
- Essexville-Hampton Public Schools homepage
- Essexville-Hampton Public Schools Facebook page
Voting closes at midnight on Friday, Oct. 2 and the winner will be announced in November.
"This is not just something that is going to help just the school for just this one year. This is going to be a year over year process of just helping kids and it won't be here for just a little awhile, but hopefully a lifetime," said Miller.
The E-Ville Empire Garber Robotics team is the only applicant still in the running for this grant in the mid-Michigan area.
Looking towards the future
The team tells Mid-Michigan NOW even with the grant, the other three dogs may not be in school buildings for another year or so.
Once the money is acquired, they will need to find a puppy and a trainer.
The hope is to get another Sheltie for Bush Elementary and labs for the junior high and high school.
And the dogs won't just be for students, they will also be available for outreach programs with the local Boys and Girls Club, hospitals, nursing homes, and group homes.
According to the team: We feel the project has become increasingly relevant as our population is dealing with an abundance of anxiety related issues over the current CoVid-19 pandemic. It is our goal to use these therapy dogs to strengthen the foundation of our community, provide a service that is currently unavailable, and awaken local interest in the gauging of our stakeholders own mental health and well-being.