The grand opening of the Trusty Amigos Dog Walking and Pet Care cooperative, located on top of a hill inside Sunset Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon on June 7, was a festive occasion for animals and humans alike, featuring balloons, homemade snacks, frolicking dogs and smiles all around.The celebration was first and foremost for the launch of Trusty Amigos, which features 15 professionally-trained employees, who are also co-owners of the business. The business is the sixth worker-owned and operated cooperative since 2006 built through the Center for Family Life (CFL), a program of SCO Family Services.But it was also a celebration of the people themselves and of a broader movement, of which CFL is a part, to empower individualsincluding recent immigrants and first generation studentsto take control of their lives, build community, learn how to run a business and create jobs for themselves and others.These members are taking concrete steps towards changing their reality. Its important to think about when the person caring for your animal is also taking care of themselves, added Katie Harrison, CFL co-op developer. They are looking for ways to put their love of animals into their love of work.Other CFL-nurtured co-ops include Si Se Puede, a successful house-cleaning enterprise that serves as a role model for Trusty Amigos and an upcoming soccer tutoring co-op called Kickin It.Alicia Chavez, current president of Si Se Puede, said the co-op has had a significant impact on my life [via] the personal growth and the economic benefit for our families.I have three children between the ages six and 21, she explained. Before we began the co-op, my main role was taking care of my kids and I saw myself as staying in the house, cooking and watching telenovelas. Now, I have more things to do and more to teach the kids, about community volunteer work, giving back and more.CFL had a vision eight years ago to create worker co-ops in Sunset Park, said co-op partner Isaac Meza. Si Se Puede inspires us to be like them: a co-op of successful family members.For Trusty Amigos co-op member Jorge Palacios, 19, the sense of family is both literal and community-built. My mom works for the Beyond Care [elder care] co-op and I never really had a dog, but always wanted one. My favorite dog is the Siberian Husky, said Palacios.His training has given him an appreciation for the hard work it takes to walk dogs and care for pets professionally. If the dog likes exercise, we take them for a run; if not, then we just walk, he said. Training was difficult because they pull, but its a lot of fun. Most people dont have time to walk their dogs, so if I can help care for them, great.The training Palacios refers to included CPR training for dogs and cats, business development classes, volunteer hours at the Sean Casey Animal Shelter on 39th Street, classes on conflict resolution, and workshops from a professional dog walker about everything from how to hold a leash and handle dog behavior issues to handle client house keys.The nascent business has already drawn glowing reviews from their first client.My husband and I hired Sonia to take care of our five-year-old cat, Colito, for about five weeks while we went abroad. We had never hired a pet sitter before and werent sure what to expect, said clients Vanessa and Jonathan. [But] while we were away, Sonia emailed us every other day to give us updates, which we loved, spent plenty of quality time with him and made sure to keep the apartment tidy.We felt so comfortable with Sonias ability to meet Colitos needs and would absolutely contact her or any of Trusty Amigos worker owners again, they said.Such customer service, care and consideration for both the pet and the pet owner is the hallmark of Trusty Amigos mission.This partnership is a humbling and awesome gift of real, authentic trust and caring of one another, said Julia Jean-Francois, co-director of CFL. We hope that someday all people in Sunset Park and everywhere will have an opportunity to grow and share their dreams as we see here.Trusty Amigos offers walks (30-minute group or 30/60-minute private walks for $15 to $50 per walk), runs (contact for pricing) and pet care (in-home or not, $20-$65 per day or night). Call 718-618-5474 or visit http://www.TrustyAmigos.coop for pricing and details.
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