By Alicia and Ava Dziak

As part of a seventh grade project, my daughter, Ava, has to work with an organization of her choosing throughout the course of the school year. It was an easy decision to work with Empire Animal Rescue Society (EARS), a non-profit animal rescue group. While the rescue is based in Salamanca, EARS animals reside with foster families all over the area, including with us in East Concord near Springville.

The requirement of the school project includes four to six hours of community service. When Ava read me the sheet she got at school, I said, “Oh, 46 hours? Shouldn’t be a problem.”

She said, “No. Four TO six hours.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Well, that definitely shouldn’t be a problem!”

While some may find it challenging to engage kids in some kind of community-service based activity for four to six hours over the course of nine months, we embraced the opportunity. In addition to fostering animals (we have successfully fostered seven puppies and “unsuccessfully” fostered a 3-year-old lab mix, Tucker, who is now officially an adopted Dziak) since October, we have spent time working with the organization in other ways.

Ava and I have attended two adoption events, where people come to check out all the adoptable animals. They can fill out an application right then and there, and some even get to leave with their new pet that day. We’ve also spent some time transporting animals to appointments, and Ava had a party before the holidays and asked her friends to being donations of dog and cat food that she could pass on to EARS.

At this point, with several months left in the project, Ava has met the four to six hour requirement, and even the 46 hour not-really-a-requirement, all without complaining.


Community service isn’t work when it involves something you love to do. For Ava, that “something” is anything having to do with animals.

Sure, there have been days when she would have rather played outside than taken the hour-long ride to Salamanca, or played a video game rather than clean up the puppy’s mess on the carpet, but overall, the experience has brought us all closer together as a family and has given my 12-year-old an experience that goes well beyond the grade she’ll get at the end of the year.

I’m not a perfect parent, and I do not have perfect children, but when it comes to school projects, we’ve always been that “above and beyond” family, and we’ve successfully been able to find ways to make projects double as family bonding time throughout the years. Showing your kids how fun community service can be—and making it something you can all do together for the betterment of something that’s bigger than you—is a great way to demonstrate that helping others can be fun and makes you feel good, too! Why stop at the bare minimum when you can excel?

Ava and I shared our first diary entry in the Ellicottville Times in December, and will continue to chronicle our fostering experience through June. We’d love to hear about your community service experiences or other ways to get kids involved. Email me at alicia@ellicottvilletimes.com or send me a message through our Facebook page at The Ellicottville Times.

January 2016

Dear Foster Dog Diary,

My name is Ava Dziak and I am a seventh grade student at Springville Griffith Middle School. I am doing a project called “Kids Can Make a Difference” in English and social studies. The purpose of this project is to help make a difference in the world through community service or volunteer work.

Here is a little bit about the dogs I have fostered since December:

Hercules — He was six months old and weighed 15 pounds. His mom was an eight pound chihuahua and his dad was a 40-pound mixed breed — an interesting mix! He was rescued from a house with too many dogs.

Hercules loved to give kisses and cuddle with me. He didn’t seem to like most men, including my dad. Whenever my dad tried to pick him up, he would run behind me, and he wouldn’t let my dad put a leash on him to go outside. We were actually a little worried that a family who came to meet him wouldn’t want him because all he did was growl at the man and his son while they visited. But they did like him! We only had him for about four days and that family (a friend of a friend) adopted him on Christmas Eve. My dad handed Hercules over to the adopters because if I handed him over then he wouldn’t want to go with them.

Daisy — She was an eight week old beagle mix puppy. Her fur was black and white splotched together and very soft. The first night we had her, she would not go to sleep and wouldn’t stop howling. The next few nights, she was fine and slept through the night. She loved to play with our dogs and her brother, Buddy, who we were also fostering. She was very energetic and loved to chew on ropes and play tug-o-war. She came from Kentucky and we only had her for three days. She was adopted by a family from Fredonia who came to pick her up in a snow storm.

Buddy – He was an eight week old beagle mix puppy. He looked just like a beagle and his fur was very soft. He was very calm and mellow. He loved to play with his sister, Daisy, and tried to play with our dogs. When we first got him, he would whimper when he couldn’t get off the couch and wait for someone to pick him up. He also came from Kentucky with his other siblings including Daisy. He slept through the night. After Daisy got adopted, Buddy became more crazy and hyper. He began to come to his name and would scratch the door when he needed to go outside. He also learned how to sit and was mostly crate trained. He was very cuddly and you could even pick him up during his nap and he would still be sleeping in your arms. We had him for about three weeks. He was adopted by a family who lives near Olean.

Things I’ve Learned:

  I can handle two foster puppies at a time.

• Some dogs don’t like certain types of people because of their background.

• Beagle puppies seem to chew on a lot more than other puppies. I did some research on this and it was definitely true in our house!

Ways You Can Help:

1. Like the EARS Facebook page and check out their wish list.

2. Email empirerescue@gmail.com if you can foster an animal or would like to volunteer in other ways.

3. Consider adopting a furry friend! Visit empire.petfinder.com to see all the animals they have up for adoption.