In April of this year, I looked at Operations Manager Jessie Morgan and she looked at me and we both said “we have got to do something different.” The problem? Finding competent, caring and committed animal caregivers. Unemployment rates are rock bottom in South Carolina. There are jobs to be had everywhere. Animal rescue is not the most lucrative or glamorous industry. We don’t pay high wages and the work is physical and taxing. But these dogs need us. So how do we attract quality people? And what about retention?
After a very serious look at what we do and what we have to offer, what the job of animal caregiver entails, what skills we need and what skills we can teach, and the fact that we were losing employees on the average every 4 to 5 months anyway, we decided to make two significant changes. First of all, we would embrace the turnover. We would plan for people to come and go – on a schedule we could plan in advance. And second, we stopped looking for people who wanted a job and we started looking for people who wanted to make a difference and who wanted to learn all they could about animals.
And so, our internship program was born. Summer of 2018 we hired our first three-month term employees. We knew they were going to stay three months. We knew the day we hired them when they would be leaving. We also hired each of them for their unique skills. They each brought something special to the team. We needed something more than just caregiving from this first group. We wanted them to teach us how to teach others how to become the best animal caregiver possible.
When you pray, God answers and he answered our prayers for interns in a big way. Our program has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Jordan Morris (far left) is a teacher by trade. She wanted a summer job during her hiatus from school and has been working with us through the summer. December Cuccaro (middle) is an aspiring writer and Erin Hinson (far right) is a young photographer with a fabulous eye for light and shadow.
December, our first intern, spent half the summer learning to be an animal caregiver and the rest of the summer using her skills with words in writing a training manual to teach others how to be a caregiver. December left us last week to begin her studies at the University of Reno, working towards a Masters in Fine Arts. Jordan, our teacher, is setting up a schedule for teaching the material December has documented and will help us in training our first group of fall interns, many of who start next week. She will stay with us working in adoptions part time. Erin is enrolled at the Savannah School of Arts and Design. They have a different schedule, so Erin will be with us til mid-September. Erin’s job before she goes back to school is (with Jordan’s assistance) to script and videotape the manual, turning December’s words into visuals, using short YouTube videos that our new interns can then reference as they move through their new duties.
Then it will all be done. The dream in May is now the reality, just in time for the fall internships to start.
December, Jordan and Erin I want to thank you and salute you. You’ve all been amazing. I have no doubt all 3 of you will be successful in whatever you choose to do.
So now it’s fall. We’ve been interviewing this week for our fall interns. So far we have two college students studying for their bachelor’s degrees with an eye towards veterinary school in the future, a dog-loving freshman college student who is not yet sure which career path she wants to choose and is eager to learn about non-profits and two high school students who also have aspirations to become vets. They may be here just through the fall. They may all come back in the spring. But whatever happens I am looking forward to seeing them thrive and grow and learn.
Our interns are bright young women. Most of our fall interns have GPA’s above 3.5 and one graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA. All are excited to be coming in for their interviews. Our goal is for them is to successfully complete this semester. They bring to the table intelligence, enthusiasm and a desire to succeed. I can’t ask for more.
Then in the spring we’ll recruit again. We will still have high turnover in our employees and when they leave, we will be crying just like we do now. But we will not be crying because they were so bad but because they were so very, very good.