February 6th, 2023
By Caty Franco, Project Manager
Virginia “Ginny” Volk-Anderson loves kids, animals, and nature. So, when she first heard of the RedRover Readers program back in 2011, she was excited to attend a workshop and become a volunteer.
“[The RedRover Readers program] sounded very interesting to me. I had just retired from the Sacramento City Unified School District where I worked as a licensed clinical social worker and I wanted to get back into the school setting. I missed working with kids,” Ginny said.
After completing the workshop, she quickly started reading in classrooms. She enjoyed engaging the students in stories and discussion about animals, but she particularly enjoyed preparing for each reading. Ginny would bring pet supplies related to the pet featured in the story. When preparing to read her favorite book, Buddy Unchained, she brought a bowl, food, a collar, a leash, dog treats, and dog toys so the kids could have a visual and tactile experience with pet care in addition to the story and discussion.
“In my career as a social worker, I heard a lot of sad stories about children who had witnessed animal abuse, when they were separated from their pets for some reason, or when their pets disappeared. I was aware of the connection many children have with animals. The stories [in the RedRover Readers program] increase their empathy for animals and teach them positive ways to relate to pets.”
In addition to volunteering with the RedRover Readers program, Ginny ran a program through the Sierra Club called “Inspiring Connections Outdoors.” There, she helped youth from underserved communities spend time in nature.
She said, “I have a really strong belief that all children benefit from individual attention and being exposed to new things.” Unfortunately, outings in both programs were put on pause in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was once again missing the opportunity to interact with children.
That’s when she signed up for the Wonder Mentoring Program through Stanford Sierra Youth & Family Services, where she was paired with a child to spend one-on-one time, having fun and experiencing new things together. She was paired with nine-year-old Jake*, and they enjoyed spending time together going on different outings like hikes, visiting museums, and talking about his favorite animal: dogs.
One day when picking up Jake, Ginny was surprised to find his family had brought home a new Yorkie-Chihuahua mix puppy, Bella*. Bella was sweet, friendly, and extremely loved by Jake and his family, but Ginny learned they had not yet started her vaccinations. Ginny had an idea for a future outing: she and Jake would take Bella to a vaccine clinic together, learning what a dog needs to be happy, healthy, and safe.
Once Ginny got the “okay” from Jake’s family, she drove Jake and Bella to the clinic and waited an hour and a half in line to get Bella’s care. While waiting, Jake had lots of questions for Ginny and the other dog parents in line.
Ginny and the others in line answered his questions, delighted by his curiosity and interest in caring for his new best friend. “Jake said he loves [Bella], and I know she loves him too. When I hold her, she twists around, always looking for him,” Ginny said. She shared that Jake is always sensitive and attentive to her needs, especially now that he’s equipped with new knowledge on how to best care for her.
“The first time I met Bella, she wore a collar that was way too big for her. [His family] also couldn’t find her leash, so they gave me a shoelace.” For Jake’s birthday that year, she gave him a gift, but she also gave him a gift for Bella: a harness and leash, so he could safely walk her around his neighborhood. “Bonding around the puppy’s care has been great for my relationship with Jake.”
From her time volunteering with the RedRover Readers program to now being a mentor for a young pet lover, Ginny’s passion for helping kids and animals contributes to a kinder, more compassionate world.
We are so grateful for people like Ginny!
Learn how to become a RedRover Readers volunteer at RedRover.org/Readers.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.