Leading With Compassion and Expertise to Support Guide Dogs and Their Companions

Daily Point of Light # 7761 Mar 5, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Lily Zhang. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Lily Zhang’s volunteer journey embodies the spirit of dedication and expertise, showcasing how one individual’s passion can significantly impact an organization devoted to enhancing the lives of others. Starting her volunteer work in the kennels of the Guide Dog Foundation six years ago, Lily’s initial role involved direct interaction with dogs, providing them with care and companionship.

Her commitment, however, did not stop at the kennels. Drawing from more than two decades of experience in event planning, Lily transitioned to a role where she could make an even greater impact – working closely with the Special Events department to orchestrate the foundation’s annual fundraiser.

Leveraging her extensive background in events, Lily has become an integral part of the planning committee for the Guide Dog Foundation’s annual fundraiser. Meeting monthly, the committee focuses on critical aspects of the event, such as donation and fundraising updates, logistic planning and addressing any pending tasks.

At the heart of the annual fundraiser’s success is the incredible teamwork between the foundation’s staff and volunteers. Lily emphasizes that while strategic planning and execution are crucial, the collective effort and dedication of everyone involved are what truly bring the event to life. This collaborative spirit not only ensures the event’s success but also reinforces the community’s commitment to supporting the Guide Dog Foundation’s mission.

Read more about how Lily uses her skill set to support the invaluable work of the Guide Dog Foundation.

Lily Zhang works with the Guide Dog Foundation to help organize events and raise funds for guide dogs to be trained and given to companions.

Tell us about your volunteer role.

I discovered the Guide Dog Foundation back in 2017, and I love working with animals – dogs specifically – but I also wanted to link it with a higher purpose that would impact people in a meaningful way. I did some research and found Guide Dog Foundation, and I reached out to them. I actually started as a kennel volunteer where I would spend time socializing with some of the service dogs that they had in their kennels. I realized that the commute to get there was a little bit far, and the amount of time on a weekly or monthly basis was a little too much.

As for taking care of the dogs, I travel for work about 30% of the year, and I can barely walk or water myself. So, I thought, what better way to help than with the fundraising process? We do an annual event called “Dogs on the Catwalk,” and I help with the fundraising efforts for that event. I’m also on the planning committee to make it a more successful and more efficient event. There are different touchpoints – people can donate, whether it’s for their raffles or 50/50 boxes or auction, so that’s really where my expertise has helped the foundation.

Why is this issue so important to you?

The Guide Dog Foundation was featured a few times on The Today Show, and I saw the impact that it made on some of the recipients. After my first event, I had complete chills and goosebumps. When you’re a volunteer, you don’t necessarily get to see the end result of your time and effort; you don’t necessarily get to see the output of your input. But once you hear these stories and get to witness how much someone’s life has changed, that they’ve been given this freedom to move around on a day-to-day basis with the help of this guide dog, doing things they may not have been able to do before… it’s really just heartwarming.

A lot of the companions attend these fundraising events, and they are just the most humble and grateful human beings I’ve ever come across. The first thing they want to do is shake your hand or hug you and let you know how much it means to them that you’re there to volunteer. One of the most incredible things is that the cost to receive a seeing eye dog is completely free to the recipient, which is why this foundation is so important. Bringing the companions to the campus in Smithtown, NY, to receive the final pieces of training – it’s free for them to come and stay for two weeks to receive their service dogs. There’s also a 24/7 support system available. Breeding, raising and training a service dog is upwards of $50,000. So, every dollar counts for Guide Dog Foundation, in terms of providing this service free of charge to recipients.

What’s your favorite dog breed?

We work the most with labradors. They range from these sweet, calm animals to hyper with lots of energy. I really do love the labrador breed, and they are one of the most popular breeds in the U.S, but I also love a golden retriever. For anyone who has allergies, we also train poodles.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

We have a sister organization, America’s VetDogs. We’re working on some exciting projects, partnering with a lot of sports teams throughout the U.S. to bring awareness about how crucial it is to the recipients of these animals to have such an organization. Really, spreading awareness is critical.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

I think it’s the camaraderie that you get with the other volunteers that you get when you’re on these monthly planning calls to finalize every single detail of the event that happens every October. This recognition is not just for me, but for all the volunteers across the board for Guide Dog Foundation. It’s such an incredible journey that we’re on together. After so much planning and so many details, seeing that final product that really takes my breath away.

Why is it important for people to get involved with the causes they care about?

I think it brings a level of serotonin – some people associated with babies or animals – there’s happiness and fulfillment when you do volunteer with something that you’re passionate about. Whether it’s helping fundraise for Guide Dog Foundation or working with humanitarian efforts or social justice, it’s so important to get out there and give some of your free time to these causes. You can split your time between your own hobbies and doing something meaningful and impactful. It makes you feel so much better as a human being.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

I think it’s really important to speak with the organization’s volunteer manager and chat with them. Share with them, “This is what I’m really good at” or “This is what I do for my professional career.” Suggest ways you might be able to help or ask if your skills can help them. Then let them know how much time you can dedicate. It doesn’t necessarily have to be 100 hours a month. You can volunteer five or six hours a month and still make a huge impact. Any time given is meaningful.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lily? Find local volunteer opportunities.


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