Pet project: Noblesville doctor donates funds for Carmel nonprofit to expand


Noblesville resident Dr. Katheryn “Kathy” Moreira recently made a donation that will enhance and expand programming at The Chris Center in Carmel. TCC is a nonprofit dedicated to improving youth mental wellness through nature and human-animal interaction.

The donation funded the creation of Rudy’s Fund: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Rudolph Moreira, Kathy’s father. Now, when anyone donates to TCC, they can donate to Rudy’s Fund, which will honor his life.

Moreira, who declined to reveal the amount, said her reason for donating was simple.

“My entire life, I’ve experienced the healing power of animals — either with myself or those I love most — and I’ve watched The Chris Center, since its earliest days, make a profound impact on teen mental wellness through their animal-assisted and nature-focused programming,” Moreira, a board-certified OB-GYN, said. “I also knew that the organization was at a crossroads. They were at the point where there was more need and demand for their programs, and they could only increase their reach and impact with additional resources. It means everything that I could help elevate The Chris Center and help more teens in our community have access to their programs.”

Moreira’s father died May 26, 2021. She said he was a general and vascular surgeon in Cincinnati for more than 40 years, and he embodied The Chris Center’s mission. Her father had a strong connection to animals his entire life.

“His house was always a literal zoo, with multiple dogs, cats, goats, ferrets, geckos, fish, you name it, throughout the years,” Moreira said. “He loved his pets, and he loved to feed his pets, spoiling them with delicious home-cooked meals. He was a fierce man with a very soft heart for his animals, and especially at the end of his life, they gave him great comfort and peace.”

The Chris Center’s co-founder and executive director, Dr. Sandra “Sandy” Moreira, Kathy’s sister, said Kathy knows the size of her donation is rare for nonprofits.

“She stepped up to make it happen and took the beautiful step to honor our father’s legacy in the process,” Sandy, a board-certified pediatrician, said. “With this gift, Kathy has so generously, graciously and beautifully weaved together everything that was most important to our father.”

According to The Chris Center, its programs teach youth the power of connecting with nature and animals to improve wellness and teach teens and preteens critical coping skills to build resilience. Sandy said TCC’s board of directors has committed 2024 to strengthening the organizational infrastructure for sustainable growth.

Its flagship initiative, the PAWS Therapy Dog Program, is in a combined seven middle schools and high schools in Hamilton and Marion counties, including Options Noblesville and Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. It also has alpaca-assisted wellness programs, in partnership with Zionsville’s Stone Farms, a Mindful Arts Program and a Parent Education Series, in partnership with the Carmel Clay Public Library.

“The Chris Center’s programming is so impactful because they not only give teens and preteens access to the healing power of their therapy animals, but their trained handler/dog teams also teach the kids coping strategies and other mental wellness tools that they can incorporate into their everyday lives — long after the therapy animals have left,” Kathy said. “I believe their work is so transformative because kids aren’t expecting a lesson. They are expecting to pet, love and be loved by a therapy dog or alpaca, and then they learn these wellness lessons, often without realizing it.”

Sandy said her sister knew the nonprofit would need additional resources to further the strategic planning, fundraising and programming required to achieve the growth that will have a lasting impact on the community.

“There is such great need and demand for our programs, but we can’t grow into new schools and maintain the highest quality programming with our current resources,” Sandy said. “Kathy’s donation will allow us to hire a program coordinator at a competitive salary, who will help us take TCC to the next level, support sustainable growth and have a lasting impact.”

Kathy said she hopes the donation will help transform the lives of youth living with mental health struggles.

“My hope is simple — that The Chris Center will be able to bring their programs into more schools and help more students. Too many of our kids are struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or lack of connection and don’t have access or timely access to mental health care,” Kathy said. “And what’s happened is that schools are now having to shoulder the responsibility of our kids’ mental wellness in addition to their education. The Chris Center removes the barriers and brings their mental wellness programs to kids where they are — in schools.”

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Dr. Kathy Moreira, second from right, with family members, from left, Dr. Robert Malinzak, Mackie Malinzak, Dr. Sandy Moreira, Emily Moreira and Jake Malinzak at the Rudy Fund launch celebration.

The Chris Center programs

  • PAWS Therapy Dog Program: Teaches and models skills for stress reduction, joy and social connection through dogs and encourages teens and preteens to use the power of human-animal connection in their own lives. Trained handler/dog teams support student mental wellness in both the short and long term through regular interactions with middle and high school students during the school day or at extracurricular activities.
  • Alpaca-assisted Wellness Programs: Through a partnership with Stone Farm, a small alpaca farm in Zionsville, TCC’s alpaca-assisted programming teaches lessons about mindfulness, stress-reduction, empathy and social connection. The program offers teens and preteens the unique opportunity to interact with alpacas, explore nature, connect with peers and learn coping skills such as mindfulness practices and stress-reduction techniques.
  • Mindful Arts Program: Nature-based art program nurtures mental wellness by combining therapeutic experiences in nature with creative arts. The curriculum, which a registered art therapist developed, includes components of nature exploration, mindfulness techniques, art creation and the development of essential life skills.
  • Parent Education Series: TCC supports parents and caregivers of teens and preteens through its Parent Education Series. Presented in collaboration with the Carmel Clay Public Library, this series features behavioral health experts who provide information on crucial adolescent wellness topics such as anxiety, mindfulness, parent-teen communication, social media and neurodiversity.