The W-underdogs Team

Pass a neighbor on the sidewalk and you’ll get a warm hello. Pass a neighbor while walking your dog and you’ll likely get a much more enthusiastic greeting. Dogs have a way of offering a positive point of contact with heir happy, wagging tails instantly forming bonds and creating a community feel.

Grace Hamlin knows the power pups have in bonding neighborhoods and has harnessed their affection through her nonprofit W-underdogs. The organization rescues animals from the streets of Peoplestown and Grant Park, builds dogs houses and organizes pet adoptions.

After rescuing dogs for nearly 15 years, Hamlin grew tired of seeing pet owners in her community put dogs on chains with no access to food, water or shelter. She decided that in order to help, she must first change the way communities perceive animal care.

“I want to change how kids grow up seeing animals. Right now, a dog on a chain is normal and until someone teaches them differently, that will continue to be normal,” Hamlin said. “Bring education to these kids about compassion and kindness to animals and it will slowly ripple into their own lives.”

Hamlin created W-underdogs in 2014 with the mission of building a rescue team of disadvantaged, at-risk youth and educating them on the responsibility of rehabilitating animals. As they care for animals, their compassion has grown for both the animals and their own communities.

W-underdogs Undercover

Hamlin’s first point of attack is to identify a dog in need. Hamlin then gently knocks on the pet owner’s door, along with one or two of her W-underdog volunteers, and offers to help support the animal with kibble or a dog house. While the rescue missions are focused on the dog, Hamlin also takes teh pulse of what’s happening in the home in case animal neglect is linked to human suffering.

“It’s undercover work,” Hamlin said. “The kids know that we are trying to bridge the difference between where our care is now and where we’d like the care to be,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin said that if she were to approach dog owners by herself, she’d get the door slammed in her face, her buzz cut and tattooed forearms making her look like a cop. But when with the W-underdogs team, the community is more receptive and accepting of the nonprofits’ generosity and partnerships with families.

Gary Bing and Tomcat

The Rescue Team

In order to become a W-underdog, youth must first demonstrate their dedication to the community by performing 100 hours of community service. Satisfaction from helping animals and the community is further bolstered by the amount of money they make through labor work around the community, such as mowing seniors’ lawns and landscaping.

“I saw so many kids without purpose and drive and no one was spending even a minute to help them grow. All they know is violence – the violence upon them and the violence they have to put up upon someone else,” Hamlin stated. “I believe that if I can keep these kids out of trouble and teach them compassion by helping animals, it’s a better way of engaging them.”

Gary Bing, 15, started off mowing lawns and now shears dogs to keep them cool in the summer heat. He’s been working alongside Hamlin since he was 9. Over the years, he’s rolled up his sleeves to build dog houses, rescue strays and even assist in the removable of dead animals. “Ms. Gracie has helped me find my place in the community and work,” he said.

Gary knows the friendships he has built with the 10 other W-underdogs is much stronger and more hopeful than the gangs he could have fallen prey to. “[The W-underdogs] become support for each other,” Hamlin said. “They can relate to the stories of seeing animals suffering and the many successes and challenges. They are the only ones who know what we face as they are the ones dealing with it every day.”

Delivering dog houses.

W-underdogs Headquarters

In four years, Hamlin and the W-underdogs have rescued 400 dogs. In just the last six months the W-underdogs have delivered 5,000 pounds of food and have donated 100 dog houses. All of this has been done through mobile operations, but the W-underdogs are currently plotting a base camp where they can expand the program and provide all their services in one place.

Hamlin has identified Lakewood House Center as a central location that could serve as a light in the Peoplestown area. With the help of Fulton County, the W-underdogs are hoping to close the lease on the property in the next 90 days and launch a capital campaign by September, asking for $400,000 to cover the renovation and first year operation. The W-Underdogs have already received support from the Petco Foundation and were granted $10,000 through the nationwide Unsung Heroes award for their lifesaving efforts.

The W-underdogs center will be open to the community as a safe place for dogs and dog lovers. The front of the building will house veterinary services where W-underdogs can learn about dog wellness and grooming. An adoption center will introduce the community to animals in need of a home and an education center in the back will serve as a place for youths to partner with tutors.

After years of building better homes for dogs, the W-underdogs will get their own home.
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