Community Connections offer “paw-sitive” learning experiences

Community Connections offer “paw-sitive” learning experiences


Bethesda’s Community Connections program is designed to connect people with disabilities with meaningful volunteer opportunities in their own communities.

And that’s exactly what volunteer Michael Johnson is doing.

For the past several months, Michael has volunteered his time every other Wednesday at the Watertown Humane Society. He helps feed nearly 140 animals and once that’s done he does whatever he can – which is everything.

“Michael is a welcomed addition to the mission of the Watertown Humane Society,” said Heather Van Dam, manager of the Watertown Humane Society. “As a volunteer, Michael interacts with the animals, and in doing so, is able to try new things and experiences in a hands-on learning environment. We’ve also witnessed Michael make new friends, gain self-confidence and practice independent decision making. It’s a fantastic program that benefits everyone equally.”

In addition to volunteering, program participants learn valuable life skills such as taking public transportation as well as going on outings and participating in recreational activities, all with the goal of building connections within their community.

Community Connections PosterBethesda takes a unique approach to pairing volunteers with local non-profit organizations. Bethesda Community Life Coach Angela Marsh explains, “Each connection begins by creating a ‘conversation poster.’ We ask prospective volunteers questions that revolve around work, community, and home, to identify the person’s dreams and goals. The poster is a critical first step to make sure the experience benefits everyone – volunteers, non-profit organizations and communities alike.”

Bethesda’s Community Connections program was first introduced in September 2018. Since that time, volunteer partnerships have been made with other Wisconsin-area organizations, including Friends of Horicon Marsh Education & Visitor Center, Dodge County Humane Society, The Gathering Source in Reeseville, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Watertown, Twice as Nice thrift store in Jefferson and the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Program.

“Whether you’re retired or still in school, everyone has unique skills and abilities that are valuable to others,” said Donna Winter, community life director for Bethesda. “Your abilities and personality may be just what someone in your community – perhaps someone just down the block – needs in their life or organization.”

To learn more about Bethesda’s Community Connections program, click here.

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