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Nancy Newton with her golden retriever Remington and 12-year-old Alexandra Cockett surprise Elaine Ault with a pet therapy visit at Palm Valley Rehabilitation and Care Center.
Editor's note: Nancy Newton participated in iReport boot camp, a seven-week series where CNN journalists offered tips to iReporters on covering a story from start to finish. This is her final product. Newton’s story is one of several standout submissions to be published on CNN.com.
Sometimes the greatest ideas arise out of rejection. At least that’s what happened to 12-year-old Alexandra Cockett of Phoenix, Arizona.
Determined to make a difference in her community, Cockett made a commitment to earn the Girl Scout Silver Award this year. It’s the highest honor a Girl Scout Cadette can earn and gives her a chance to demonstrate leadership skills in an organized, dedicated way.
Nearly one year ago, the aspiring veterinarian asked to shadow me and my pet therapy dog, Remington, as a way to give back to her community while enjoying the company of animals.
I’ve been volunteering in this capacity for nearly six years with two golden retrievers at Palm Valley Rehabilitation and Care Center in Goodyear, Arizona, and Huger Mercy Living Center in Glendale, Arizona.
Every other Sunday, Cockett would volunteer with Remington and me. When she would visit with patients, their faces would light up and for a brief moment it would seem that they forget their pain. Sometimes the patients would tell her about their children or grandchildren and pets they are missing back home. Often, she is their only visitor of the day, so they will tell Cockett that she made their day.
More than eight months have passed since volunteering has become part of Cockett’s biweekly routine, but much to her dismay, Cockett quickly discovered that many therapy organizations usually do not allow children under 16 to participate due to liability concerns and misperceptions that they may not be mature enough for the job.
Taking matters into her own hands, Cockett decided to form her own pet club for kids ages 9-13 with community giving in mind. She called it the PACK Club, which stands for Pets and Caring Kids.
“I wanted to expose my friends to volunteer and career opportunities with animals,” said Cockett. “It’s kind of like doing our homework early. We can make better choices about our future involvement in the community if we understand our options.”
Because there is nothing similar to the PACK Club in Arizona, people from a wide range of professions are rallying around Cockett by offering their support. An attorney provided legal paperwork without a fee. A design expert created a club logo for free. And industry leaders are offering their time to lead field trips and presentations for club members.
One organization that reached out to Cockett was the Foundation for Service Dog Support (FSDS). When executive director C. J. Betancourt learned about Cockett’s vision, she agreed to collaborate with the PACK Club by providing mentoring and leadership opportunities.
“We must never underestimate the ability of youths to make a true difference,” Betancourt said. “Alexandra and her friends are committed to making the community a better place, and their ambition must be encouraged and nurtured by the community.”
Another major supporter of the PACK Club is Dave Beskar, headmaster of Trivium Archway and Preparatory Academy, where Cockett attends school. He allowed Cockett to present the PACK Club to the student body, so she could recruit members.
"Alexandra's desire to do good for other people in a meaningful manner exemplifies the qualities Trivium Prep hopes to instill in all students," Beskar said. "Her effort to create and run the PACK club acts as a sign for all children her age to be good citizens of our state and country."
And Alexandra’s mother, Arminda Cockett, couldn’t be prouder of her daughter.
"I haven’t met a child who doesn’t dream big things, but Alexandra surprised all of us when she decided it was time to start making this dream a reality at such a young age,” she said.
What’s equally touching is that Cockett's mother overcame a fear of dogs and found a way to treat her allergies, so her daughter could experience pet ownership this year. They adopted a 2-year-old poodle-terrier mix named Milo last August and look forward to training him for pet therapy work.
Looking ahead, it won’t be all fun and games. Cockett knows she has a big mission. She understands the precious gift of her time and looks forward to the many patient’s hugs and tail wags that will come her way.
--CNN iReporter Nancy Newton
Did she end up getting her Silver Award? I really hope she does. This is such a great cause and having reasons for having my own therapy dog warms my heart that someone at her age wants to help. God bless her and I really hope she gets it! She deserves it!
Most kids are neither gifted nor stupid. Good kids like Alexandra Cockett need and deserve every ounce of support that can be given.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is actually the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive. And not only are we not "cadettes", but we're not cadets. Get your facts right!
girlscout4ev, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you were a Girl Scout a long time ago, rather than being an impostor. The Silver Award is the highest honor a Cadette Girl Scout can receive. The Gold Award is for Senior Girl Scouts, who are the next age group up. Search "Girl Scouts" on the web for the full range of levels and awards that girls from Daisies through Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, Seniors and Ambassadors can earn. As the father of two girls and the husband of a long-time Girl Scout leader, I've been involved almost my entire adult life in the organization and have kept up with the changes.
And Alexandra: good for you! I hope you did get your Silver Award, you are definitely a leader.
I love Golden Retrievers. They are the friendliest and yet the most respectful dogs I have met.
Some dogs come to you to harass you for food, but Goldens come to you because they want to be your friend.
Kids like Alexandra give me hope for the future. Much love and appreciation to her and everyone supporting her efforts.
Please don't use the Detroit D if you're going to say such ignornant things - Detroit gets a bad-enough rap without your help. Congrats to Alexandra - I hope other kids follow your example!
This is such a wonderful story! I love to read stories about children who are doing such selfless acts and giving back to their community through the goodness of their heart. (I share them with my own teen daughter as inspiration.) Alexandra will be a blessing to all those who know her throughout her lifetime. Her new furry friend at home is sure lucky to have been chosen by her also! Way to go! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
i really love cnn news because we can learn something new from it!!!! :)