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Nicole Arcese

Special Correspondent

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Photo by Lynn Iarussi

Brooke Iarussi poses with one of her hand­made weighted blankets.

They say money can’t buy happiness, which may or may not be true, but it can build a bridge to get to that “happy place”. Senior, Brooke Iarussi, is raising money to build that bridge and purchase a service dog for a local Autistic boy.

For her NHS service project, Iarussi is making weighted blankets in exchange for donations in an effort to help a mother raise money to get a service dog for her son with Autism (the family wished to stay anonymous). According to Iarussi, the service dog costs $12,000 and will be purchased from the organization 4 Paws for Ability. It will provide a lot of help to Jack so he can be more independent.

“Jack seemed like such a nice boy who was in a lot of need, so the project that was offered
seemed like such a good thing to do,” said Iarussi. “I decided to make the weighted blankets because I figured I could raise money with them, while also helping out the community,” she added. The blankets have weights sewn into them that act as a pressure therapy to help children with anxiety calm down.

“Service dogs provide freedom and independence to those in need and it is incredible to see these dogs make such a difference in people’s lives,” said Alyson Cox, an employee at National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS)/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans. 4 Paws for Ability strives to, “enrich the lives of children with disabilities [through] the training and placement of quality, task trained service dogs to provide increased independence for the children and assistance to their families.”

Service dogs are ideal for people with disabilities because they help them carry out tasks they normally depend on other people for. Service dogs go everywhere with their partner, whether it’s work, school, or shopping.

Cox said that the dogs help by “picking up dropped items, retrieving objects from tables or counters, turning light switches on and off, pushing automatic door buttons” as well as other tasks that their partners cannot do themselves.

Children with Autism struggle socially interacting with other children, so service dogs can also be trained help them build confidence. “Dogs won’t judge a child; they don’t care how popular a child is or how he or she forms sentences,” Cox said. “The service dog can serve as a companion and reduce their anxiety in social situations,” said Christine Brumbach, former Director of Student Development at Pollard Middle School in Autistic people sometimes react to things intensely and service dogs are trained to calm them down during those times. Norina DiPhilippo, a Special Education teacher at H. Olive Day
Elementary School in Norfolk, MA, described a video she watched recently. In the video, an
Autistic woman was “hitting her head against a wall,” and a service dog approached and stopped her. This shows how the dog was able to comfort her and make her stop hurting herself.

Service dogs are specially trained to respond appropriately to all behaviors of their partner. “If Jack was aggressive with the dog, the dog would know how to handle that,” Iarussi said. For Jack, a service dog would be a great companion, because not only would it help him, but also because “he really loves dogs in general,” Iarussi said.Iarussi is spreading the word about her fundraising by posting in local social media groups such
as “I’m Holliston Happy,” as well as a few others. She set a goal to raise at least $1,000, but she has already raised $1,400.

Along with Iarussi’s fundraising, Jack’s mom is also trying to raise money herself for her son’s service dog. She has already applied and he has been qualified to get the dog.

“Once Jack’s mom has enough money to get the dog, 4 Paws for Ability will have to bring the dog to Jack and train it according to his needs and personality,” Iarussi said.

Said Cox, “not having to depend on another person is a priceless gift.”

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