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Jeffersonville dog walk raises money for veterans' program

The Evening News and The Tribune - 4/8/2019

April 07-- Apr. 7--JEFFERSONVILLE -- When Louisville resident John Journey was matched with his service dog, it was life-changing.

After he was medically retired from the U.S. Army, it was difficult for him to adjust to civilian life, and he suffered severely from mental illness. With the help of his wife, he reached out to Dogs Helping Heroes, and he was matched with a German Shepard named Zakk.

His dog, who he describes as goofy, keeps him calm and helps him out with both mobility and mental stability.

"I don't think I would be here today if it weren't for Zakk," he said. "If I wasn't married with my wife and didn't have Zakk, I wouldn't be here today."

Journey was one of the people who showed up with their dogs Saturday morning at Big Four Station in Jeffersonville to participate in NEXGEN's second annual Dog Walk/5K. The event raises money for Dogs Helping Heroes, a Clarksville nonprofit that matches veterans or first responders facing issues such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury or mobile impairments with a trained assistance dog.

Beth Roberts, a volunteer with Leadership Southern Indiana, works with students in the nonprofit's NEXGEN initiative, a leadership program for local high school juniors. At last year's event, the organization raised about $5,000, which helped match one person with a service dog.

The organization raised $7,917 at this year's event, which fell short of its $10,000 goal. NEXGEN intends to match two people with a service dog this year, so it plans to continue looking for sponsorships to meet the full amount needed, according to Leadership Southern Indiana director of programs Anne Darku.

Jeffersonville High School junior Lex Hawkins is a member of NEXGEN who helped plan the event.

"It really is just awesome to help the veterans, because that really is a serious issue," he said. "I just feel bad for everybody has to suffer. To be able to help in any way that we can is just awesome."

Roberts said she is always moved to hear veterans' stories of how Dogs Helping Heroes has helped them.

"It's a great cause, because they have risked their life for our freedoms," she said. "With the service they provide for our country, whether it's protections or the freedoms that our country has, to give back in this way is such a small gift to give them that can help them come back and help them be a productive person in our community. It's just incredible."

NEXGEN received sponsorships to raise money, and people paid $15 or $25 to participate in the walk or run. Attendees could also donate throughout the event.

In addition to supporting a good cause, Roberts loved watching all of the different dogs at the event -- it's like a "dog parade," she said.

The dog walk and 5K is part of NEXGEN's "Saturday Serve Day" project. Darku said about 115 participants walked or ran at Saturday's event.

She said she was inspired by the leadership of the high schoolers who volunteered for the event.

"The whole point of Leadership Southern Indiana is to bring people together to serve and transform our community," Darku said. "And for youth leaders to be part of that, to see what this community can be about and to lift people up, is really fantastic."

Joe Faudree, a Marine veteran, said Dogs Helping Heroes has helped him out tremendously in matching him with his service dog, Stewart.

He faced mobile impairments following a stroke, but Stewart helps him with mobility and gives him confidence to go about his life, Faudree said.

"He means everything. I can't see my life without him," he said. "Dogs Helping Heroes has helped me so much. After my stroke, they helped me come to the point where I can come out and talk to people."

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