Williams’ volunteer service leads to paid position caring for animals

Natalia Williams, 17, of Monticello, started volunteering at AWF Shelter at the age of 14. Now, she’s a part-time employee caring for the dogs and cats that come to the shelter. Here, she’s pictured with “Bear,” a red heeler mix. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     At the age of 14, Natalia Williams started volunteering at the Animal Welfare Friends (AWF) Shelter in Monticello. Two and a half years later, at the age of 17, Williams, a junior at Monticello High School, is now a paid employee at the shelter.

     “I just really love animals,” she said as to why she started volunteering at the shelter in the first place. “Once I heard the shelter was opening here, I was all over it.”

     Williams and her family actually adopted one cat and two dogs from AWF, all rescue animals. At one time, Williams’ family fostered a dog from the shelter.

     “We didn’t want to give him back,” she said of adopting that dog.

     Shelter Manager Amy Bradley jokingly refers to situations like this as “foster failures,” when foster parents don’t want to return the cat/dog they’ve been caring for.

     At the time, Williams was the youngest volunteer at AWF. Now, she’s the youngest employee, and urges other young people to consider getting involved.

     “They’re always looking for volunteers out here,” she said. “There is no maximum number of volunteers.”

     During the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams spent a lot of time out at the shelter, mainly with the dogs. When AWF lost an employee during the pandemic, they offered the position to Williams.

     Typically, every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday morning, you can find Williams working at the shelter.

     “I come out on Monday nights, too, or whenever they need me,” she offered. “My hours depend on my workload.”

     Williams handles the dog chores, which include cleaning out kennels, taking the dogs outside for a walk or some fresh air, and making sure they have their medications if needed.

     On occasion, she assists with the cats, cleaning litter boxes or cleaning the kennels in the isolation room.

     “Basically I make sure the animals have everything they need,” she summarized.

     Cindy Bagge, president of the AWF board, praised Williams for her dedication and work ethic.

     “When Natalia initially started to volunteer at the shelter, we were impressed that she was not only completing Silver Service hours, she was wanting to broaden her experience in an area she was interested in pursuing in post-high school studies,” praised Bagge. “As a result of Natalia’s volunteering, she has become the first high-school-aged part-time shelter employee.”

     Bagge said there are several words she could use to describe Williams: bright, motivated, and capable are the top three.

     “Not only does the shelter appreciate her efforts, but we appreciate her recruitment of others to help with the shelter’s cause,” added Bagge. “We hope Natalia serves as a role model, along with other shelter high school volunteers, for other teens to get involved with the shelter.”

     Williams said if a group of teens want to volunteer at the shelter, they can come out together and spend time with the cats or dogs. The more the merrier.

     “It’s easy to get Silver Service hours out here,” she said. “Or if you’re interested in having a career as a veterinarian or working with pets, this serves you well, too. It’s good exposure to the community.”

     Williams said if people are still cautious because of the pandemic, volunteering at the shelter is the perfect opportunity because a single volunteer can come out and spend time with the animals without others being around.

     Bradley said when the pandemic first started, the shelter had a lot of volunteers. Now, it’s down to maybe a handful.

     “We don’t have anyone coming out to help with the night chores,” Bradley offered. “And we used to have groups coming out to volunteer together.” That is no longer happening.

     Working at the shelter, Williams said it’s very accommodating to her school schedule. At the moment, she’s taking part in hybrid learning, which means she’s online in school two days a week during the first period of classes.

     “I basically have the rest of my day to work. Or I wake up early and come out here,” she said. “I do the rest of my schooling online.”

     Williams is able to work without much supervision, knowing what’s expected of her.

     “It’s not hard to do,” she said. “I just make sure the animals have their meds, food, water, and some attention.”

     Being around the dogs and cats so much and developing a bond with the animals, Williams said it can be hard when someone comes in to adopt one of them.

     “It’s hard at first,” she said. “But then you’re happy that they’re moving on to a happier place. We do what we can for them here.”

     Recently, Williams witnessed the adoption of Marshall, a stray dog from the Morley area who arrived at the shelter weighing just 35 pounds.

     “That was one of the rewarding cases,” she said.

     Aside from giving of her time to AWF, Williams is also involved in soccer and speech and drama.

     “Most everything got cancelled because of the pandemic,” she said.

     Williams had the lead role in the school’s spring play, “Wildcat Katie Brown,” before it was cancelled in mid-March, just as the pandemic took hold.

     With another year of high school to go, Williams has a couple of options for her future: zoology or criminal justice.

     Williams is the daughter of Kate Williams and Jeff Blunt of Monticello.

     Note: This is the first story in a series that will focus on the role local youth play in helping to keep area businesses going, especially during the pandemic. These teens have the ability to self-direct and take on tasks typically meant for their adult counterparts.


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