Helping Dogs Help People
Here in St. Louis, CHAMP Assistance Dogs has been raising, training, and placing assistance dogs with people who have cognitive disabilities, as well as with their caregivers, since 1998. The work these animals do make our world a better place in some surprising ways.
There are several designations for assistance dogs. Service dogs, the foundation of the CHAMP program, are dogs tailored-trained to help people with specific disabilities better function at their homes and in the world. These dogs are well-trained. They can carry personal items in a backpack, open and close doors, and assist clients in rolling over in bed, among other tasks.
CHAMP therapy dog teams visit people in:
- Assisted living centers
- Hospice facilities
- Homeless shelters
- the USO
- Veterans Homes
- Other similar institutions
Owned by volunteers and trained by CHAMP, therapy dogs comfort people who are ill or need someone to help brighten their day. They visit people of all ages, mostly as a warm and gentle presence, there to comfort people. Facility dogs (who receive the same training as service dogs) help provide healing comfort in places where psychological triggers are present. Often, a facility dog will help a child who faces an alleged abuser in a forensic interview. These canines ease stress and anxiety so that the child can find the strength to speak in front of someone they have every reason to fear.
For example, most kids, going to a doctor’s office, can stand on a scale when asked. Unfortunately, a child with autism who has trouble with change may not be able to do as requested. But if a trained facility dog demonstrates the action first, the child will often feel more comfortable following suit.
But providing assistance dogs is only a piece of what CHAMP can do. Executive Director Pam Budke also oversees a partnership with the Humane Society in Maryland Heights. There, they offer dog training and provide rescue services. They also work closely with the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WERDCC). There, inmates train dogs, even getting a chance to live with well-trained dogs who are over two years of age. Budke says, “It empowers the women, many of whom have never had a positive experience with a dog. And two of our very best employees are ex-offenders that we met through the program.”
Centralizing Their Commercial Property
For the entire history of CHAMP, their headquarters have been at 4910 Parker Road in Black Jack, Missouri. A house built in 1922, it was in desperate need of an update. However, Budke and the CHAMP Board of Directors didn’t think it would be worth the work for several reasons.
First, located north of I-270 near Halls Ferry, the office was too far from many of the people they served. Also, though it was suitable for offices, they didn’t have a conference room or training space. Many of their meetings took place in libraries, restaurants, or the Humane Society. It was no longer a tenable solution for their needs.
And their need was not only great, but it was continually increasing! With a lengthy waiting list for trained assistance dogs, they needed to operate more efficiently to keep up with the demand. Part of the shift in priority meant giving up ownership of their property and shifting to a lease in a more central location. That way, they could be more flexible in the future as the needs of the people they serve change.
That’s when two of their board members recommended Frank Yocum of Hilliker Corporation.
From Black Jack to Maryland Heights
Yocum immediately helped CHAMP list their current building. Then, he started them down the path to find the right commercial lease for Budke and her organization’s needs. Because their headquarters in Black Jack was old and in need of repair, Budke was concerned they wouldn’t be able to find a viable buyer. But Yocum was able to connect them quickly with four different prospects.
Though all four showed considerable interest, A Woman’s Glory Salon put in an offer. The owner, LaShanda Chapman, was excited about the house and saw immediate possibilities. Chapman’s enthusiasm impressed Budke, who said, “We love our building—we were there a long time—and we wanted to see someone in it who loves it as much as we do.” With their old headquarters under contract, Budke and Yocum had to accelerate the process of finding new commercial property for lease. They started looking in and near Maryland Heights so they could be near their Humane Society partners.
The CHAMP wish list, however, was a stretch. They hoped for between four and five thousand square feet with offices, a conference room, and an ample open space for dog training programs. The open space would ideally be air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. However, no spaces on the market met their hopes while sitting inside their price range. The buildings were either too small, too far from Maryland Heights, or didn’t have proper HVAC.
However, Yocum had another idea. 1968 Craig Road was a flex space in the Westport area that sat comfortably inside CHAMP’s budget. At just 2,550 square feet, it’s smaller than their dreamed-for space. But it’s heated and cooled throughout the facility. It features offices, an open area, and a conference room. And best of all, it’s only minutes away from the intersection of I-270 and Page Avenue. Bo Keefer of Hutkin Development Company represented the building’s owner, AV Ventures, LLC. The landlord loved the idea of bringing in CHAMP. Yocum negotiated a win-win lease that made good organizational sense.
CHAMP Assistance Dogs Continuing Service
Now that Budke and her team have moved into their new space, they’re ready to create opportunities for more dogs to help more people. They can hold large-scale classes and meetings on-site. They can also take better advantage of their partnership with the Humane Society, which is now just minutes away.
Budke loves the new space and enjoyed working with Yocum. She said, “Frank was so easy to work with. Everything went smoothly with him. And I called him a lot! I had so many questions, but Frank was always pleasant, always helpful.”
But she also wants people to know that the future only looks bright with help from ordinary people who love dogs. They’re always looking for more puppy raisers (none of their dogs stay in kennels) and dogs to train for serving.
To learn more about CHAMP, including how you can get involved, go to champdogs.org.
Meeting Your Organization’s Commercial Real Estate Objectives
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