A unique program in Northwest Arkansas is giving a fresh start to women living in a correction facility, all while finding new homes for local shelter animals. And it's saving the county thousands.
Falling in love with animals at the Washington County Animal Shelter is not hard to do for people who volunteer there on a regular basis. But for one group of volunteers, it is an escape in every sense of the word. It's part of a work-release program at the Northwest Arkansas Correction Center.
"We are a state prison, but we focus a lot more on treatment and getting the women prepared to get back into society," says Sgt. Abby Clark of Northwest Arkansas Community Correction Center. "They get so much out of this, more so than the animals and it's just the highlight of their day."
The work-release program started back in September as a way to help the county, the shelter and the volunteers all at the same time. When putting pencil to paper, organizers say the county saves nearly $140,000 a year when adding up the man hours by the volunteers.
Angela Ledgerwood is the director of the Washington County Animal Shelter. She says, "It's just instrumental to what we do. They clean everything, they walk all the dogs and socialize with the animals and a lot of times they get to just play with them and that's what the animals need and it also helps the individual."
Volunteers in the program are shuttled to the shelter three days a week as part of the program. Tamela Stanford lives at the correction center. She says, "Honestly I feel like the animals that are picked up and brought here are a lot like we are there at the center. Some of us had vicious lives."
Stanford has been in the correction center for nine months on charges of possession of a controlled substance. She believes part of starting over, along with her recovery process, happens while volunteering. "In my case, it made me want to improve myself in my way of living," says Stanford.
Samantha Coggins also lives at the correction center. "To get away from the compound for six-and-a-half hours is just awesome, but to know I'm coming here and get to spend all this time with them and make their life better is making my life better," says Coggins.
The shelter's ultimate goal is to adopt out every one of its animals, with the much-appreciated help of the volunteers.
"It's just incredible. They know each one of the animals. They know their temperament, they know their personalities and you can tell that they love them," says Ledgerwood.
While the volunteers in the program wait to get out of the correction center, they are happy to help find the animals their new forever home.
"We cry," says Stanford. It's like the loss of a child, but yet you're happy. "You're like, oh my gosh he got adopted and we're like, yes he got a family. You know we won. It's like a victory. They're great inspirations, they're your companions. They are your best friends for life."
Reporter: Jonathan Martinez
Photographer: Sean Leach