Ever have the good fortune of making a decision and not realizing the consequences would be far-reaching, unexpectedly positive, and life-affirming?
Julie Engelien is one such lucky individual, and she is the second Blue Community Champion of the Year we are featuring in our series. Julie works in our National Accounts area and has been with Florida Blue for nearly 20 years. She was recognized for her work with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), an organization which pairs service dogs with adults and children with needs ranging from autism to muscular dystrophy.
How did Julie come to work with CCI? “My husband was retiring, and he was looking for volunteer work. We were friends with our veterinarian and knew that he was a puppy-raiser for CCI. We’d thought about it, but wanted to see what it was all about. After attending a CCI graduation, where the dogs and their “people” graduate from a highly-intensive two week training session, well, we saw it and we were hooked.”
Julie goes on to say that she and her husband were concerned with how their then-thirteen-year-old daughter would handle having to part with a puppy once it was ready to go into the CCI training school. Little did they know that their daughter would gain incredible confidence and empathy from the experience. “This was something Julia latched onto – and it got her through those difficult teenage years. She realized how people would stare at them as they took their puppy in the community in his training gear. People would stare at us wondering who had something wrong with them.” As Julia burned from the unwanted attention, Julie was able to teach this lesson: “think of how someone who IS disabled must feel when others stare at them.” This lesson in empathy grew into so much more. Julie glows with pride when she mentions how her once-shy daughter has now given speeches to rooms of 200 people on behalf of CCI. The other benefit? “We do this as a family unit. I can’t tell you what it means to my husband and me when it’s time for us to go to a CCI event and my daughter drops everything with her friends to be there with us. CCI makes family a priority.”
Their time as puppy raisers for CCI has an ultimate goal: to prepare these dogs to help someone become more independent. Julie describes the emotion of attending a CCI graduation. “I cry every time. Have you ever seen an autistic child say their first words? I have – when they give their dog its first command.” And when the parents come to thank the Engeliens’ for their role in providing the dogs, well, Julie says it makes every single second of their effort worth it. “We can’t wait to start raising another puppy for this amazing program.”
Julie Engelien is a prime example of how a single person can have a profound impact on another’s life. We are proud to have her on our Florida Blue team and recognize her as a Blue Community Champion of the Year.
Know someone who’s been helped by a service animal? Tell us about it in our comments below.