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Student project aims to help veterans, K-9s

March 12, 2014 logoStudents working in the Northern Illinois University Experiential Learning Center are racing toward a deadline in their quest to help military veterans, both human and canine.

The team is working to produce a magazine that will raise awareness of Save-A-Vet, which plans to open a facility in DeKalb where disabled military veterans can live rent-free while attending NIU in return for agreeing to care for a retired military or police dog.

“These dogs are true comrades-in-arms to their handlers their entire working lives. They protect those they love from the hazards of war and save victims of disaster. And they do so without thought for themselves, but for the service of others,” says Danny Scheurer, a disabled Army and Marine Corps veteran who created the organization Save-A-Vet.

Military K9s twice saved Scheurer. He says that, on average, those dogs are credited with saving 27,000 troops a year, mostly by sniffing out explosives.

“When these K-9 partners retire from this dangerous work, they should be able to retire with honor and live out the rest of their days in peace and comfort, with loving people. They’ve earned it,” Scheurer says.

Unfortunately, until very recently, the dogs were considered equipment and often deemed unadoptable. Scheurer created Save-A-Vet to give those dogs a chance.

The group hires disabled veterans and puts them through rigorous military-level training classes to learn how to handle the dogs. They then match the veteran with the dog and provide housing free of charge in return for the care they provide.

The dogs enjoy a well-deserved, relaxed retirement while the veterans get a much-needed dose of structure in their lives.

Save-A-Vet wants to expand that model by introducing an educational component with their Huskie House concept.

To help them raise awareness for their organization, and to help raise funds for the facility, the organization teamed up with the Experiential Learning Center in the NIU College of Business.The facility offers students a unique opportunity to provide classroom learning to real-world business problems while working under the supervision of faculty coaches.

Students selected to work in the ELC often work on real-world business problems for companies such as Caterpillar, McDonald’s or Wal-Mart. These students chose Save-A-Vet.

James Johnson

James Johnson

“We’ve worked with several not-for-profit organizations, but the emotional pull on this one was just huge,” says Jim Johnson, one of two faculty coaches who advise the team. “The students are completely committed to this. They want to help the organization, they want to help rescue dogs and they want to help veterans. They are very passionate about what they are doing.”

That is especially the case for one member of the ELC team, Joshua Eller, 25, of Stillman Valley. A veteran who served in the Middle East, he saw firsthand the value of the dogs.

“They kept us safe, they protected our facility and kept us entertained during downtime,” says Eller, who served as an observer on the Israel-Egypt border while enlisted in the Illinois National Guard.

Since January, they have been working with 12 students who are writing, editing, laying out and selling advertising for a magazine that will be distributed on campus and throughout the DeKalb-Sycamore area. The project has been more difficult than many of them anticipated.

“These are business students, not journalism students, so it has been a bit of a challenge for them to learn all that it takes to produce a magazine,” Johnson says. “But it has also forced them to hone a lot of business skills like organization, communication and planning. In addition, on the advertising side, there is lot of marketing, pricing ads and keeping the books. Then there are the logistics of getting it delivered. Essentially, it’s a small business.”

With most of the stories in the can, and layout under way, the students will spend the next few weeks trying to persuade businesses throughout DeKalb County to buy advertising space in the magazine.

Once the magazine is complete, Scheurer says he hopes to use it as a template that other universities can use to help create similar similar to Huskie House in towns throughout the Midwest and across the country.