Isabella Ruiz and Avery Anslinger knew they had to come up with a DECA project that had strong meaning for both of them. For Isabella, it was Gonzo, Fozzie, Mr. Donuts, and Nimsy. For Avery, it was Winner and Oliver.
For the record, Winnie is Anslinger’s cat, and Oliver is her dog. Gonzo and Fozzie are Ruiz’s dogs, and Mr. Donuts and Nimsy are her cats.
Ruiz and Anslinger, both juniors at Eden Prairie High School (EPHS), are partners in Humane Haven, a business startup to benefit Secondhand Hounds, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit specializing in the adoption of dogs and cats.
The pair came up with the idea for Humane Haven as part of a DECA project to raise funds for a nonprofit organization. They began serious planning for the project this summer and implemented the plan soon after school began this fall.
They toyed with other ideas, such as environment-related organizations, but settled on animal adoption.
Initially, they were focused on the Minnesota Humane Society but quickly learned that their financial situation was good. They looked for something closer to Eden Prairie and eventually decided to work with Secondhand Hounds.
“We both have dogs and cats, and my cat was from Secondhand Hounds,” Ruiz said. Oliver was also a rescue, she added.
Even then, they had to focus their project for maximum effectiveness. “We decided we wanted to do something with pets,” Anslinger said. “We didn’t know exactly what. We asked ourselves, ‘Do we want to do something to stop euthanizing? There are lots of things you can do. But there’s only so much we can do.”
The project falls under DECA’s community giving category, which requires students to define a problem and find a solution.
Working with their advisor, Margot Cowing, a business and marketing teacher at EPHS, they produced a plan and began looking at how best to increase awareness of pet adoption and how to raise money.
Secondhand Hounds’ mission is rescuing animals and providing adoption, rehabilitation and hospice care to those animals.
The organization completed 1,165 dog adoptions and 440 cat adoptions in 2022, according to Katie Hedin, Secondhand Hounds’ director of development. Additionally, the organization’s food shelf fed 4,491 animals. Overall, Secondhand Hounds took in 2,407 animals throughout the year.
Secondhand Hounds, located on Baker Road just north of Highway 62, conducts out-of-state rescue missions and then finds people to foster animals as they await adoption. Fostering became a focus of Humane Haven’s plan. “(Secondhand Hounds) actually supplies all of the foster parents with everything they need,” Anslinger said. “So, the fosters don’t have to pay for anything. It’s basically like having a free dog while you’re watching them.”
To provide cost-free fostering, Secondhand Hounds needs funding, and that’s where Humane Haven comes in.
Ruiz and Anslinger created a website, humanehaven.co (not .com), where they sell a variety of animal-themed coffee mugs and T-shirts, among other things. They also accept donations on the website.
“Our main mission for our project is to get people to adopt rescue animals vs. adopt from breeders,” Anslinger said. “Because the problem isn’t that people aren’t adopting dogs and cats. They are, but it’s a problem that rescue animals aren’t being adopted.”
While they love it when people buy products on the site, donations are most prized because they save on shipping costs, Ruiz said. The girls’ early goal was to raise $1,000, and they were about halfway there by early December.
Cowing is a staff advisor for Eden Prairie DECA. The club has more than 200 EPHS members who participate in a wide range of activities, from social events to local, state and national competitions.
“There are projects that range from startup business plans to marketing campaigns, to Avery and Isabella’s project, which is in a category called project management,” she said. ”In the past, that category has always been (working) hypothetically with a business and doing a marketing plan. (Now) you’re actually doing something. They’re evaluating things like the impact that (the project) has on the audience that they’ve targeted, whether it’s (to) raise money, educate people or initiate change. They have to actually organize, plan and execute a project.”
Other DECA students have worked with a grief support organization to help raise money to support families who have suffered a traumatic loss, Cowing said. Two other students passionate about computer science are starting a club at Central Middle School, teaching students basic programming skills, she said.
Another group focusing on financial literacy is targeting first-generation college students, Cowing said. Those students are working with the EPHS’s college and career counselor to develop information sessions to help students identify resources to navigate the complex topic of funding college.
Projects are intended to give students the opportunity to work on a problem or an opportunity they identify, Cowing said. “They find partners within the community who are the decision makers that they need to collaborate with to be able to either access funding or audience.”
They have to work around real-life problems, such as scheduling venues and meeting the requirements of outside organizations. “They gain a lot of real-world skills,” Cowing said.
One big decision Ruiz and Anslinger had to make was who their primary audience was going to be. Another was what their “product” would be.
They decided to build their website to sell products and raise awareness. But, even though they are based in a school, they doubted that students would be their primary audience. Even so, they recruited students to be on their organizing committee and have offered them opportunities to earn volunteer hours by helping with small projects.
They have also planned several events to raise awareness. One, held in November, was a teacher appreciation puppy party. Secondhand Hounds brought several puppies to the school, and teachers were invited to visit and cuddle with the animals.
Future events will be announced on their website and social media, Anslinger said.
The Humane Haven project continues into early 2024. Ruiz and Anslinger will present the project to judges in a state competition in March. If they place in the top five in that competition, they will qualify to compete in the DECA International Career Development Conference, April 27-30 in Anaheim, California. More than 22,000 students, teacher-advisors, and business professionals will attend the conference.
To view the Humane Haven website, go to humanehave.co.
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