Heroes among us — Sandy teen wins national prize for her service dog fundraising
Dec 10, 2018 04:29PM
By Heather Lawrence
Tabitha Bell of Sandy with her service dog Sunny and friend Carson with his dog Lulu. (Photo Courtesy of the Barron Prize)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Dear teens: If you think you’re too young to make a difference, think again.
Tabitha Bell of Sandy was just 13 years old when she started her service dog fundraising organization Pawsitive Pawsibilities. Now a freshman at UC Berkeley, Bell learned in September that she had won a Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes for her work.
Bell feels strongly about service dogs because she uses one herself. “I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and needed help navigating my middle school campus at the Waterford School,” Bell said. That’s when her German shepherd Sunny came into her life.
For Bell, a service dog meant freedom. “After seven surgeries on my legs and spine, I was forced to remain home from school because of my severe balance and strength deficits. But my dog Sunny changed all that. Sunny supported me when I walked, picked up things I accidentally dropped on the ground and ran messages for me,” Bell said.
To share the gift of mobility with others, Bell, her sister Hannah and her best friend Morgan Kane established Pawsitive Pawsibilities. The organization raises funds to train and place service dogs with those in need. The service dogs help military veterans and those with PTSD, kids with special needs and those in need of mobility assistance.
After running her foundation and organizing several community fundraisers, Bell got a chance to share some information about Pawsitive Pawsibilities at a horse show earlier this year.
After her presentation, a representative for the Barron prize called her and encouraged her to apply. In August, she found out she had won. “Each year, the Barron Prize honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive difference to people and the environment,” it says on the Barron website. (See www.barronprize.org)
As part of the award, Bell received a monetary gift she split between her foundation and her education expenses. In addition, “I was given an opportunity to submit pictures and more information on Pawsitive Pawsibilites. The opportunity to spread the word about the foundation in their publications was another great gift!” said Bell. (See www.pawsitivepawsibilities.org for more information)
Bell has a unique relationship with her alma mater, the Waterford School in Sandy. “They’ve allowed us to raise money through selling the Pawsitive Pawsibilities bracelets to students, and helped us set up a 5K and benefit concert,” Bell said of the school.
Nancy Nebeker is the dean of students at Waterford and worked with Bell as a student. She was happy to help coordinate events at the school and let Bell be an example for the student body.
“When Tabitha launched her nonprofit, her fellow students enthusiastically supported her and her fundraising efforts. Tabitha took time to share her message about the life-changing impact of service dogs in student assemblies, and her peers saw clearly the passion Tabitha brought to this important cause. She was a shining example of philanthropy for our entire community,” said Nebeker.
Bell and her co-founders Kane and Hannah continue to support the organization while chasing their other dreams. “Morgan (and I) continued to work together all through high school. She is still involved as her time allows and is now a basketball star for Iowa State University Cyclones. We hope to possibly involve our college communities in Paws,” said Bell.
Hannah couldn’t decide between training a service dog or going to medical school, so she did both. “In her first year of medical school at Duke University (Hannah) raised Lulu, a Labradoodle puppy who would become a wheelchair assistance dog. We joke and say she will be the smartest service dog ever!” said Bell.
Since her senior year, Bell has started using a new service dog, Nox. “Nox is attending classes with me. It has been a big adjustment from (living in) Sandy! Nox is very different from Sunny and it has taken some extra time to complete our development as a team,” said Bell.
Bell plans to take business and marketing classes to help her continue to run her foundation. She also has several fundraising events on the horizon.
“I plan to organize another Super Paws 5K this spring and would love to bring that to Berkeley. It would be wonderful to see Waterford keep up the Sunny’s Spring Sing Benefit Concert, and I would love to help them with that,” said Bell.
For someone who started her community service efforts early in life, Bell is tuned into creating a new generation of socially aware kids. “I am focused on expanding Puppy Paws fundraising into classrooms. It is exciting to see children involved in community service activities,” Bell said.