Friends for Veterans Graduation Ceremony

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(Camden, NJ) – The first of three dogs to “graduate” from a new program that utilizes inmates to train rescue dogs to be companions for veterans was presented to Purple Heart recipient Arthur Wimberly, Jr. of Pennsauken Township.

Wimberly served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.  He entered active military service on January 29, 1968, and was released from active duty at the rank of Sergeant on January 19, 1971. His last duty assignment was with Company “D” 23rd Engineer Bn. AD, USAREUR.

“The opportunity to have inmates participating and learning a new skillset that will ultimately benefit veterans is a home run for public policy, and it is critical that we continue to find more innovative ways to support both communities,” said Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young, who serves as liaison to the Department of Corrections. “This progressive idea will also assist us in finding forever homes for animals from our shelter population. The advantages gained by matching all of these disparate parts into a monolithic structure will be an improvement to the quality of life for our overall community.”

In a groundbreaking pilot program the Freeholder Board instructed the corrections department, working with One Love Animal Rescue, to train and care for companion dogs to be adopted by veterans, identified by the Office of Veteran Affairs, who will give them a forever home.

“We know companion dogs can improve the quality of life for veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression. Creating a program that allows inmates to train these dogs for veterans will give them a chance to give back to the community in a meaningful way, but also to learn valuable skills as they prepare to re-enter society,” said state Sen. Jim Beach (D-Camden/Burlington). “At the same time, this kind of program will help to increase the availability of dogs for veterans in our state who are seeking them as a means of coping with combat-related disorders.”

“We started promoting the program’s concept about two years ago. Every local official we talked to enthusiastically embraced the idea and did whatever they could to move things forward,” commented Sherri Smith, One Love Chairman and Co-founder. “We owe a great deal of thanks to Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, Senator James Beach, Deputy County Administrator Holly Cass, and Camden County Corrections Director David Owens.  All saw the potential of the program to save dogs, assist inmates, and help Veterans in need, and each one was instrumental in making this happen.”

Director of the Camden County Department of Corrections, David Owens views this new initiative as a first step to opening many new doors for inmates.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, we hope that this program will be that step to change training and continue an evolution in corrections for New Jersey,” Owens said. “We know from the experience in other correctional institutions that this training partnership benefits the inmates, the dogs and the community.”