Shelter youth ignite learning sparks with 4-H activities, visit from therapy dog

Oregon Teen Science Cafés are a series of fun, free, out-of-school events for students in grades 7-12.

The Washington County Juvenile Shelter, also known as Harkins House, is a short-term temporary residential shelter care and evaluation program for youth pending alleged violations who volunteer to participate in lieu of detention.

Because it is important to foster emotional well-being with youth who were experiencing a difficult time in their life, the shelter provides opportunities for positive recreational, artistic and cultural activities, school and counseling.

In 2019, the Oregon State University Extension Service 4-H Youth Development program in Washington County partnered with the shelter to provide hands-on activities once a month to the youth during school. The activities came with a visit from a familiar therapy dog. Dogs help promote emotional well-being and are social catalysts, meaning people are more likely to connect with others in their community when a dog is present.

As a result, bringing experiential learning to the classroom made 4-H accessible to the youth. Over 108 young people, ages 13 to 17, learned first-hand about animal science, engineering, art, and entrepreneurship. This broad exposure to different topics helped ignite a spark for learning. Activities included extracting DNA from strawberries, playing Bingo with financial literacy questions, launching paper rockets, creating scent puzzles for dogs, and making aromatherapy bath salts for family members around the holidays.

Learning alongside a familiar therapy dog provided authentic ways for young people to de-stress, especially during a time when they are away from their pets at home.

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