Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall 2018 (September 20, 2018)

Toys and Tasty Treats Offer Comfort, a Path to Empathy


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September 13, 2018
By Whitney Helm

[F18] Bri Hansen’15 and Mati Schliem-Guzman
Mati Schliem-Guzman, at left, works with Bri Hansen’15 to sort items to put into a pillow to be donated to the Humane Society. Hansen is an education specialist at the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which partners with the Humane Society.
Photo by: Ryan Silvola/Beloit Daily News.

Sitting in her Janesville, Wis., home, Bri Hansen’15 needed a release.

Faced with the cold December weather and reeling from her grandfather’s death, she started baking dog biscuits using her new puppy Rogan and kitchen scraps to wade through her grief.

A few days and hundreds of dog biscuits later, Hansen had successfully spoiled her pup and given many of the dog-loving families she knew an extra Christmas present, while adding a light-hearted conversation starter to her family’s first Christmas without her grandfather.

“I never imagined I’d be that dog-mom but it felt good to make my ‘pack’ smile on such a grief-stricken Christmas,” says Hansen.

Soon after the holidays, Hansen, who is an education specialist at the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville, began to work with her students on that month’s theme of “citizenship.” After doing some research, her students—who range from kindergarten to 12th grade—decided to donate to the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. The center’s staff and students slowly started checking items off the nonprofit’s donation list.

But Hansen, who majored in studio art at Beloit and teaches the center’s sensory art classes, also found students wanted to make things they could donate to the society. They settled on dog toys, taking the animals’ preferences on scent, sound, and size into consideration as they reconstructed plastic bottles, scraps of fabric, bells, feathers, and other recyclables into toys.

Once they realized the shelter doesn’t receive many food donations, they made it their mission to help, and Hansen was able to channel her newfound dog biscuit expertise.

Students had fun combining ingredients like blueberry-peanut butter and cheesy green bean flavors into biscuits, while also practicing what they were learning in their daily living skills class, which teaches them how to modify utensils and equipment to cook and clean in the kitchen.

“I like facilitating students’ interests in the classroom. It’s something I learned from Beloit College. It breeds investment, and with that comes engagement and learning,” says Hansen.

Hansen says the same things she loved as a student while working at Gallery ABBA, the college’s student-run art gallery, are the things she enjoys about the Humane Society partnership.

“Working at Gallery ABBA encouraged me to see what the community has to offer,” she says.

Now Hansen encourages her students to do that, too. Their partnership with the Humane Society has expanded beyond dogs to include a reading program that helps socialize cats. Several students have volunteered to read braille to the animals or take positions like dog walking and cleaning to learn job skills.

“I love the joy it brings the students to get involved, be creative, and make a difference for a cause that inspires them,” says Hansen.

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