Students at Monticello Middle School have made a new best friend! A Therapy Dog, named Willow Grace, who has been making weekly visits to the school and already making a huge impact.
Seventh-grader Hailey says, "Willow is just here to love you and just tell you everything is going to be ok." Willow visits the school with her mom Amy Walz, who also plays an important role. "When I feel like I need to open up to somebody, me and Amy have that connection that I know that I can trust her with what I'm going through," explained Hailey.
The pair are the perfect duo that can provide everlasting love and an ear to listen. "It's like this boulder has been lifted off your shoulders and all the stress fades away," eighth-grader Lily said.
Amy Walz, Founder of You're Not Alone and Willow's mom, started the visits in response to her son's own mental health crisis sixteen years ago. "He attempted to take his life in front of his little brother," Walz said. The dog's love helped to save her son's life and she wanted to bring that love to every middle school in Minnesota.
As she starting spreading her story, the support came pouring in. "Quite shockingly, I woke up to messages from Iowa and Alabama. We had a Minnesota man traveling through Mississippi who saw it and reached out to us who has a therapy dog up in the Bemidji area. It made me realize that it's a big goal but it's achievable," said Walz.
June is one of eight new dogs to the organization along with her handler Heather Ely. "When I was in school it was still very taboo to talk about mental health, or anxiety, or depression. You didn't. And as we know that doesn't help anything," she detailed.
After she and June shadowed Willow on a school visit, Ely described the amazing experience saying, "I just got chills. So, I think that says it. It's incredible. Middle school was a tough time for me, so it really has a direct impact for me to be able to come and give back this way," said Ely.
"With 440 schools in Minnesota, even if every team took two schools, we need 220 dogs," explained Walz. She continued saying, "I either have a school that doesn't catch on or they're like hmm or I have Hudson that says can you start tomorrow." Despite administrators not always being quick to adopt the visits, the students are head over heels.
"Sometimes the school counselor might not be the right option and a therapy dog can give you love, and you can also feel really warm around them," seventh-grader Eashan said.
"I feel like dogs should be in every school so if kids are like having a hard time, they can like come here and get puppy love," seventh-grader Annika said.
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