Canine Partners for Life breaks ground on major expansion project
By Steven Hoffman
Canine Partners for Life (CPL), the Cochranville nonprofit organization that trains service dogs to provide life-changing assistance for people with a wide range of disabilities, broke ground on phase one of a planned $8.5 million expansion on Thursday, March 16.
The Marian S. Ware Program Services Center will be the hub of CPL’s program activities, according to executive director and founder Darlene Sullivan. The renovated and expanded facility on Faggs Manor Road will house all the staff except for the kennel staff, and will include interview rooms for both applicant and volunteer interviews, multiple accessible restrooms, accessible entrances and exits, and a larger harness shop. The entire building will have improved efficiency and will be designed to better accommodate the CPL clients who utilize wheelchairs and scooters. The project includes a renovation of existing space as well the construction of an additional 8,000 square feet of space.
“This campaign is about respect and appreciation for the needs of the people who we serve,” said Sullivan. “As Canine Partners for Life continues to grow and improve, it is imperative that our applicants, students, graduates, volunteers, and staff have a facility where they can learn and work in a space that is respectful of their individual needs and unique situations.”
The March 16 groundbreaking was attended by dozens of CPL staff members, volunteers, and supporters. State Rep. John Lawrence said that Canine Partners for Life is something of a hidden treasure in the community, and has a far-reaching impact.
Sullivan founded Canine Partners for Life in 1989, and at that time the service dog industry was still in its infancy. Service dogs were primarily used to assist people in wheelchairs back then.
Today, the CPL staff and volunteers help train canines to partner with people from around the United States who suffer from a wide range of physical, neurological, and cognitive disabilities, including muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cerebral palsy, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, spinal cord injuries, strokes, seizure disorders, arthritis, spina bifida, Parkinson’s Disease and more. Canine Partners for Life has grown into a national leader in the assistance dog industry, and has placed dogs in homes in 45 states. More than 650 service and companion dogs have been placed with people who need them since 1989.
According to Janie Cramer, the current president of CPL's board of directors, there are approximately 400 volunteers who assist the organization—just one illustration of how important many people consider CPL's services to be.
Cramer is currently in her second stint on the board of directors. She was a pediatric nurse who worked with many disabled children during her career, and believes very strongly in the organization's mission. She has raised nine puppies herself, and has seen the difference that a service dog or an alert dog can make in a person's life. There is a growing need for service and companion dogs that have been trained at CPL. The new Services Center will set the stage for a second phase of an expansion that will allow CPL to increase the number of canines it can train by 20 or 25 dogs annually.
There is a big difference between training a family pet and training a service dog. Canine Partners for Life has developed a comprehensive training program for the dogs that takes two years to complete. Alert dogs and service dogs must have very specific characteristics in order to be successful. A person might be relying on a service dog to assist in an emergency—perhaps even a life-and-death situation. The service dogs are trained to be gentle, consistent, and focused on their partner.
As people who have partnered with one service dog return to the organization for successor dogs (their second, third, or fourth service dog from CPL), they are always moved to the top of the waiting list, causing new applicants to be faced with waits of up to five years to receive a dog.
Sullivan explained, “Our facility cannot support further growth to meet the needs of our clients until we address critical facility improvements and expansion.”
Sullivan said that they knew this expansion would be necessary as far back as 18 years ago. CPL officials have been discussing and planning for the expansion for more than a decade.
“We’ve been working on the preparation for this project for 11 years,” Sullivan said. “It has taken us 11 years to get here. We've been talking for years about moving dirt, and now we're finally moving dirt.”
Sullivan told those gathered for the groundbreaking that she has often referred to Marian S. Ware as the organization’s fairy godmother. Ware was widely known as a philanthropist and activist who supported many charities, including a number of initiatives that supported the advancements of women's causes, medical and scientific research in diabetes and Alzheimers disease, and charities which provided services for people with special needs. She passed away at the age of 91 in 2008. Her husband was the late Congressman John H. Ware III. Their daughter, Marilyn Ware of “The Woods” Charitable Foundation, gave generously to help make the Marian S. Ware Program Services Center a reality.
According to Sullivan, it will take about eight months to complete the construction work on the project, which means that, if all goes well, the facility should be open by the end of the year.
As construction begins on the Marian S. Ware Program Services Center, CPL will continue the fundraising effort to secure the remaining $3.1 million to begin phase two of the campaign—building a new training center. Construction on the Mollie and Minor Barringer Training Center, featuring the Copeland Training Room, is expected to begin as soon as the Marian S. Ware Program Services Center is complete.
CPL officials emphasized that the entire expansion project would not be possible without the generous support of donors, including lead donors Mollie and Minor Barringer, Mr. and Mrs. Gerret van S. Copeland, Marilyn Ware of “The Woods” Charitable Foundation, the estate of Lisa Moseley, the Longwood Foundation, Crystal Trust, Mr. and Mrs. David Twing, C. Victoria Kitchell, Phil and Daphne Reese, and the Marian S. Ware Fund.
C. Victoria Kitchell, the chairperson of the fundraising campaign, expressed her excitement about the project. “Thanks to the support of our major donors who have made this campaign project possible, CPL’s future is secure and we can continue providing independence to individuals with disabilities. We hope everyone will join in our excitement, follow our progress, and spread the word to help us secure the remaining $3.1 million.”
To learn more about Canine Partners for Life, visit www.k94life.org.