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Member Spotlight

Robin O'Brien

APHE seeks to spotlight members of the organization that has done one of the following: 

  1. Demonstrated leadership and commitment to the field of humane education
  2. Created a program or activities that have created accessibility and/or inclusion for others
  3. Expanded learning opportunities 
  4. Used creative approaches to education and learning

We are thrilled to announce that this month’s spotlight recipient has not just fallen into one of these categories but ALL of them! She has an amazing story we have decided to share with you to highlight how she has found her home in humane education.  We would, however, be remiss if we did not mention how above and beyond she goes for APHE.  This member volunteers her time to be the editor for our Humane Education Quarterly newsletter, which is no small feat.

Join us in celebrating the contributions and achievements of Robin O’Brien!  Thank you Robin for helping make our community stronger and brighter!

Finding my Forever Home in Humane Education

It was at times a bit of a culture shock to move from the East Coast, to the Midwest, to the Rocky Mountains, and then back to the Midwest in a 7-year span.  But also such a thrill, with food, traditions, landscapes, and other defining attributes that are unique to each time and place.  These details make each place special – and allow places to stand out while showcasing the vast variance of idiosyncrasies within one country.  

As an East Coaster born and raised, do I love hoagies more than others?  Most likely, yes.  This passion for when a “sandwich” turns into a “hoagie” could be attributed to my Philadelphian roots.  But then there are some universal passions and ideals that I undoubtedly share with each and every humane educator across the globe.  For example, the curiosity and inherently good intentions of young people is universal.  We as humane educators can agree and are lucky to actively watch this occurrence.

  We recognize the value of children learning each day.  Does the universal importance of children’s imagination and curiosity ever falter?  Does its importance lessen during a pandemic and global health crisis?  I would have already bet, but after this summer at the Wisconsin Humane Society, I can confidently confirm that the answer is “no.”  No, we cannot stress enough the priority of children learning, growing, asking questions, making mistakes, and trying new things.  This is a universal mission that we can all agree on across the globe through the good and bad times.

We all look forward to the day we feel safe and content to resume our regular routines, free of coronavirus fears.  My WHS Youth Programs Manager, Dezarae Jones-Hartwig, describes a “pivot fatigue” that has permeated the humane education psyche since March 2020.  Yet, I see her enthusiasm and humane education’s goals brightly shining through the pivot fatigue daily.  Passionate people are exploring creative ways to engage youth and communities in humane education.  Virtual, in-person, hybrid, pre-recorded, asynchronous, pod-based, and social-distanced youth programs have all reminded kids this summer of the importance of humane thinking, kindness, and care of animals.  

So, on a personal level, what does it mean to suddenly feel at home in the middle of a global pandemic?  In a new city, new job, masked-up, and perpetually social distanced?  It means humane education is universal – a constant personal, professional, physical, social, emotional mission.  It means that some things are still charging ahead, and humane education is still positively contributing to our communities’ well-being.  We advocate for empathy, understanding, and support for our animal friends and pet owners.  Although our youth programs may look different, programs are still running and thoroughly enjoyed by the kind, young people that we strive to support each day.  

This feeling of a newfound “home” in humane education, might also mean that with a fresh and wide-eyed perspective as a newly anointed humane educator, the opportunities can potentially outweigh and outlast the pivots.  I am incredibly lucky to be a Humane Educator after starting as a Youth Programs Specialist with the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Milwaukee Campus in June 2020.  I cannot wait for the future.  In the meantime, with all the unknowns, I feel a sense of contentedness hearing middle schoolers’ pet care stories, feel a sense of hope when hanging up camper-made kennel cards, and cherish watching the “a-ha” moments in a breed discrimination discussion amongst elementary students who are still learning their uppercase cursive letters.

I used to scoff at the idea of a “dream job.”  Yet here I am, an East Coaster, former art teacher, pet enthusiast who wanted more than anything to work with animals and their humans, now serving my community through the Wisconsin Humane Society’s youth programs team.  If someone asks, I’ll be in the classroom (or working from home), dreaming up social-distanced lessons and anticipating the next time a child in my community asks a question about humane animal care.  This must be the place for me, and I celebrate the opportunity to continue humane education’s trust in our youth, communities, and animal friends.

© Association of Professional Humane Educators