The Georgia General Assembly will honor a teen philanthropist Friday with a special award.
Reps. Ben Harbin, R-Evans; Barry Fleming, R-Harlem; and Ann Purcell, D-Rincon, passed a House resolution to honor Laurel O'Neal, 19, of Evans with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean's Project Award in Citizenship.
The Augusta State University student was recognized with the Dean's Award because of her extensive charitable work through 4-H, Baptist Student Union, and her senior project last year involving pet therapy.
Pet therapy is taking dogs, cats or some other domesticated animal to institutions such as the Youth Detention Center, nursing homes or children's hospitals to visit with inmates or patients that don't normally have the opportunity to play with animals.
"I was invited to observe a pet therapy session at the Children's Medical Center at (the Medical College of Georgia) and I was so inspired by what I saw and the impact the animals had on the kids' lives that I wanted to be a part of it," the former Greenbrier High School student said.
O'Neal got involved inpet therapy at the end of her sophomore year in high school visiting nursing homes with her Beagle/hound mix, Copper, and then began visiting the Augusta Youth Detention Center as part of her senior project.
Laurel O'Neal, a Georgia 4-H Club member, participates in a pet therapy program. O'Neal will be presented with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean's Project Award in Citizenship by the Georgia General Assembly for her work.
"The first time I went out there was definitely eye opening, because we went into the mental college and you could see scratches on there arms from where they tried to commit suicide," O'Neal said. "It was such a blessing to see the impact that the dog had on them when most haven't seen there own pets in a long time. They value that therapy the dogs offer and it really changed my life."
O'Neal currently majors in psychology, but she says that may change. Her long-term goal is to become a Christian youth counselor.
O'Neal - a master 4-Her - was a tennis instructor and counselor at the Rock Eagle 4-H Camp last summer and will do so again this summer.
"If I hadn't of gotten involved in 4-H I know I wouldn't be where I am today," O'Neal said. "It's been such an awesome avenue of learning leadership and community service.
"Around 30,000 kids come through Rock Eagle each summer, which gives me a chance to change a kid's life every week."
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