In 2021, as students were returning to in-person schooling post-COVID, Clay County School Corporation recognized a need for more student mental health support. The corporation had already paired with the Hamilton Center, which provides many resources to support mental health in our region, but teachers and faculty alike realized that more help was needed. As the corporation discussed ideas, one teacher recommended a therapy dog program.  

Soon, the Clay County Therapy Dog Program was born, and in the fall of 2023 therapy dog Journey the Goldendoodle was introduced to Clay County schools. Almost immediately, teachers noticed positive changes in their students. Student mental health and behavioral data from the past two years has shown remarkable improvement since Journey started going to schools. Similarly, students with emotional and mental health struggles are attending classes at higher rates than before.  

Thrive West Central joined the cause in May of 2023, as Grant Writing Specialist Jordan Cunningham began work on a grant application that would expand the Therapy Dog Program. Alongside Thrive’s Director Ryan Keller and Clay County School Corporation’s Assistant Superintendent Tim Rayle, Cunningham began to apply for the grant, which is provided through the Wabash Valley Community Foundation. 

“The grant process consisted of two parts . . . [the first being] a proposal that needed acceptance to proceed to the application stage,” Cunningham shared. “Fortunately, our proposal was accepted in May, and now we’re diligently working towards the application deadline on Monday, August 1!”  

Should Clay County School Corporation receive the grant, the Therapy Dog program will grow from one dog to three, “allowing more students to benefit from the social and emotional benefits of therapy dogs in the classroom,” according to Cunningham.  

Receiving this grant is especially important to Clay County, as Cunningham notes that Journey is “spread too thin.” She explained that by adding two new therapy dogs to the school system, the Therapy Dog program will be able to lighten Journey’s workload and “make a greater impact on the school.” 

The Clay County Therapy Dog Program is especially important to Cunningham, who shared that she is a “strong advocate for mental health awareness” due to the loss of one of her grandparents to mental illness. She also noted that this application is her first solo project at Thrive.  

“My goal,” Cunningham shared, “is to make a positive impact in the communities we serve, and receiving this grant makes me believe this is an excellent place to begin.”