'It Can Stop Being a Job, and Instead Become a Calling'
Franklin & Marshall College Alumna Shares Her Experience Opening a Nonprofit
When she accepted her Franklin & Marshall College diploma and ceremoniously moved her mortarboard tassel to the left, Martha Mumenthaler '21 knew she wouldn't have made it to that moment without her service dog, Yoda.
"He helped me graduate college," she said.
Prior to having Yoda by her side, Mumenthaler described living in darkness as she struggled with her health and the symptoms of her disability.
"It impacted my attendance at F&M. The semester before bringing Yoda home, I missed over 40 days of school," she said. "But in the first semester of having Yoda and having him attend classes with me, I only missed 10 days. Yoda changed my life."
This life-changing partnership not only helped Mumenthaler reach the F&M Commencement stage, but also allowed her to realize a new life purpose as well: starting a nonprofit organization. Last year, Mumenthaler founded Foliage Retrievers Service Dogs, an organization dedicated to supporting disabled individuals, like herself, who are ineligible to receive trained service dogs.
"My goal is to provide these individuals the opportunity to find their four-legged partner," she said.
Learn more about Mumenthaler's nonprofit, how her F&M education has supported this experience, and what advice she has for current F&M students looking to enter the nonprofit world.
How did your journey to launching Foliage Retrievers Service Dogs (FRSD) begin?
I founded FRSD after learning that, despite having multiple debilitating chronic illnesses and a diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), I was ineligible for a service dog from most organizations. PTSD service dogs or psychiatric service dogs raised by programs are typically reserved for veterans or first responders (in the case of America's Vet Dogs). I saw receiving a service dog as a life raft and an irreplaceable part of my treatment plan, and realizing that I had been denied access to receiving a service dog because I didn't fit the criteria of being a veteran was heartbreaking. I learned that owner training was an option, which means that rather than receiving a professionally trained service dog, you find and train a dog yourself. So, I embarked on the journey of training my first service dog, Yoda. I spent time learning from and consulting with many talented trainers, shadowing, interning, and eventually, working as a dog trainer. I soon realized I was joining a whole community of individuals that didn't meet the outdated view of disability and accessibility: owner trainers. Owner-training should remain an option for those who choose to raise their own service dogs, but it can be tedious and expensive, and therefore not for everyone. With the opening of Foliage Retrievers Service Dogs, I hope to make owner-training a choice, not a necessity.
What do you wish the world knew and understood about service animals?
I wish that people knew how life-changing these dogs are to people. I also wish that they understood that service animals are — at their core — medical equipment, and should be treated as such. There is a difference between service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals; only service animals have public-access rights.
How do you feel your F&M experience prepared you for this venture?
I got my start being around animals through horseback riding, and I would say the majority of my background knowledge in animal handling came from that. However, working at the F&M vivarium helped me understand the needs of lots of different animals, and it taught me the power of data collection. While at F&M, I also learned how to juggle many commitments, take in a lot of information, and work tremendously hard. I also spent a lot of my time on campus advocating for myself, which made me all the more comfortable advocating for others and this organization.
What advice do you have for F&M students looking to work in the nonprofit sector?
I would tell them that it is incredibly rewarding if you are passionate about the topic. It can — for the right person — stop being a job, and instead become a calling. I would advise them to find mentors, make connections with alumni, and don't be afraid to do exactly what it is you want to do to help make this world better.
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