When asked how many teens and dogs have been involved in OPCC’s k9 connection, director Juliet Beynon pauses as if to marvel at the program’s impact.
More than 670 youths have participated in the 3-week sessions, developing their self-esteem, empathy and sense of purpose. And more than 440 dogs have been placed in permanent homes, leaving shelters and avoiding the risk of euthanasia.
The nonprofit program has certainly grown over the last decade, and it will celebrate its 10th anniversary June 27 during its Summer Festival fundraiser from noon to 3 p.m. at Clover Park in Santa Monica.
The event serves as another landmark moment for OPCC, formerly known as Ocean Park Community Center, which last year commemorated its 50th anniversary. The organization offers housing and a wide variety of social services in and around Santa Monica.
Its k9 connection program — which has long had the support of The Who frontman Roger Daltrey and which recently received the honorary patronage of actress/comedian Jane Lynch — helps youngsters mature while preparing the animals for adoption. And although the recurring sessions are relatively short, their results are felt well after graduation ceremonies.
“I go back every month and meet with the kids,” Beynon said. “We don’t just say, ‘See ya.’ I stay in touch with them. They’re usually a little sad because there’s been some incredible bonding, but they have a great sense of pride for what the dog can do three weeks later.”
The k9 connection program, which has an annual budget of about $195,000, organizes seven 3-week sessions throughout the year. One wrapped up at Olympic High School last month. Another at Virginia Avenue Park starts in mid-July.
The classes typically host about half a dozen students and are tweaked to meet the students’ needs and interests. They’re held every day for the duration of the session and usually involve an educational visit to an area animal shelter.
Each 3-week session costs the nonprofit roughly $5,000, which covers trainers, facilitators, guest speakers, materials and transportation expenses. Money raised through the upcoming Summer Fest will support the program, which is offered for free to area students.
The annual festival — which arrives at Clover Park after several years at Cheviot Hills Recreation Center in Los Angeles — started out as a softball game and picnic but has expanded dramatically over the years.
This year’s event will feature dog games, dog yoga, kids’ activities and sports, including relays, cornhole, sand volleyball and exhibition softball. There will also be an animal psychic, a “Smooch Your Pooch” photo booth, a drum circle led by former OPCC client Felix Garcia and a poetry performance as well as exhibitor booths, food trucks and a homemade dessert buffet.
Former members of the k9 connection program will be on hand, as will a few dogs up for adoption.
“The alumni really blossom at this event,” Beynon said. “It’s great when you have a couple of them who step up and take on the responsibility.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.