Encouraging and inspiring through animals

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Amanda Smith holds Long Legs, the box turtle. (Photo by Michelle Williams)

Amanda Smith holds Long Legs, the box turtle. (Photo by Michelle Williams)

By Michelle Williams

The parks department in a community is often something that people use to entertain and education young children or to take a stroll through nature. In Hamilton County, the Parks and Recreation Department has programs in the works that a community may never imagine seeing.

One such program is administered by Amanda Smith, superintendent of natural resources and education. In response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in late 2012, Smith found herself asking what she could do to make an impact and help prevent a similar occurrence in her community. She had been visiting the juvenile services center once per year to speak about her occupation, and she decided to step up her efforts.

Smith wanted to do something to inspire a sense of empathy in kids who may be at risk. She had learned ways that animals had been used to foster empathy among adult inmates, and wondered if she could do the same for minors by using the animals she cared for in her programs. She now visits the center at least once per month, bringing with her turtles, salamanders, snakes and other reptiles or amphibians.

“Part of her goal is to encourage [the kids]and she uses the animals as a bridge to make the connection with them.” said Cindy Baney, a K-5 music teacher with Carmel Clay Schools. Smith allows the juveniles to interact with the animals as much as they want, and she speaks to them about her personal journey in life.

“I barely made it into college. To be successful in a career right now, it’s not something that I think most of my teachers would have expected,” Smith said. “Your past doesn’t have to completely shape who you are in the future. You might find something you never knew interested you like I did. I just try to give them some passion and hope to find what it is they love and tackle that if they can.”

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