By Bob Skolnik
A troop of Riverside Girl Scouts built and delivered four "Puppy Pushers," carts with seats designed to carry small therapy dogs and lift them to bedside height, to the Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy headquarters in Morton Grove on Feb. 8.
The delivery was the culmination of a two-year project for Girl Scout Troop 45152 which mostly consists of fifth-graders who attend Central School.
The genesis of the idea came from conversation between one of troop's leaders, Renae Smith-Ray, who works at the Walgreens corporate office with a Rainbow volunteer, Emily Shafer.
Shafer and her dog, Clarence, have volunteered with Rainbow for three years, and Shafer is a member of its board of directors. Smith-Ray and Shafer talked about how difficult it was for smaller therapy dogs to get to bed level during visits with patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities.
When the members of the Girl Scout troop became aware of the problem, they set about trying to come up with a solution.
They researched what was needed by visiting stores and searching the Internet. They partnered with students in a design/thinking/communication class at Northwestern University to get feedback on their ideas. The girls then presented a PowerPoint presentation online to the Northwestern students, who then designed prototypes. The Girl Scouts went from there, refining the Northwestern students' ideas.
The girls held workshops last fall to decide between two prototypes. Then the girls, with some help from their parents, built the Puppy Pushers. The design that they settled on basically attaches a small seat to a walker on wheels.
"This has been an exciting project, not only for the girls, but for the leaders as well," said Yioula Melchiors, one of the adult leaders of Troop 45112, in a press release. "It has been wonderful to watch the girls' ideas grow and to work with on building something that will really make a difference in the community."
The troop also got a little financial help for the project, with Walgreens contributing $500 and TTX Company, where Melchiors works, kicking in $2,000.
Troop members who worked on the effort included Addie Segura, Asha Ponnappan, Brooke Zavorski, Clara Zimmerman, Frances Baker, Ella Johns, Bella Suzukida, Klea Melchiors, Laurel Smith-Ray, Lola Baker, Maggie McCoy, Marianne Krutsch, Naomi Nyenhuis, Nia VenHorst, Olivia Tomas, Paige Zavorski, Paloma Mendoza, Sami Daun, Sophia Melchiors and Violet Furey.