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Aflac Power Hour Spotlight: Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS)

Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, also known as PAALS, has been serving the Midlands and surrounding communities since 2007. During this year’s Midlands Gives Day, the organization won an Aflac Power Hour Prize. To learn more about how this Aflac Power Hour Prize will positively impact the organization, we interviewed Karen Addy, Development Coordinator of PAALS.

What is the mission of PAALS?

The organization’s mission is to enrich and empower children and adults with physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities by training service animals and providing animal-assisted educational, therapeutic, and recreational activities. PAALS places assistance dogs in South Carolina and bordering states that are located within 230 miles of Columbia.

How can those in the community get involved with your organization?

PAALS is a volunteer and community-powered organization. Along with the generous support we receive from businesses, we can carry out our mission thanks to the help of weekend foster families, volunteers who take our service dogs who are in training on weekly outings, and volunteers who help us plan and carry out events and fundraisers. Anyone interested in volunteering should visit the volunteer section of the PAALS website.

What individual’s story stands out to you and shows the impact of your organization?

After an injury left him with a painful physical disability, South Carolina resident Brian Gagnon retired from his 20-year Air Force career. The early retirement, constant physical pain in his back and limbs, and inability to work worsened Brian’s existing depression, anxiety, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I was down and depressed, and while I didn’t feel suicidal, I did feel that my family would be better off without me because I felt useless physically, almost like dead weight,” Brian recalled.

Brian’s PTSD was especially disabling for him. While also using conventional approaches to help Brian, Brian’s mental health therapist recommended that he look into getting an assistance dog to help with his PTSD.

Brian applied to PAALS several years ago, and in 2020, PAALS matched him with assistance dog Bonnie. She was trained to put calming pressure on Brian’s legs and feet whenever she sensed him becoming anxious. She awakens him from nightmares and is trained to stay nearby and focus only on him. Brian said Bonnie’s presence and constant attention have made a huge positive difference in his mental health and general resilience. For the first time in years, he began feeling a sense of hope for the future, and these positive effects have carried over to his entire family.

How will the funds from the Aflac Power Hour Prize benefit your organization?

We will use the generous prize money from Aflac to help train an assistance dog. This dog will make it possible for a South Carolina military veteran with a disability to lead a more independent life. While in training, the dog will visit South Carolina schools, festivals, businesses, and many other public settings, where they will meet thousands of residents of all ages. This will help educate the public about empathy, the incomparable bond between dogs and humans, and the invaluable protections guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

The Community Foundation is proud to partner with Aflac through the In Good Company Network. Aflac is proud to be a vital part of the communities its team members call home.

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