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These Burlington students STARS for shelter, seniors and food pantry

STAR students pet one cats AndersAnimal Shelter South Elgin. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media

STAR students pet one of the cats at the Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 15, 2014 6:07AM

Thirteen sixth- and seventh-grade students from Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin traveled with teachers Zandra McGuire and Kim Smeets last week to help out at Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin.

The goodwill effort was part of the Central Community Unit School District 301 program known as STAR, which stands for Students That Accept Responsibility. STAR students come from both Prairie Knolls and Central Middle School near Burlington.

A second STAR visit to the shelter, which will include Central Middle students, is slated for later this month.

During the visits, students are given the chance to make homemade dog treats and fleece cat toys for the animals at the shelter. They also socialize with some of the adoptable cats and dogs. The shelter houses 100 to 150 cats and 30 to 60 dogs. It also has an animal foster home program.

“STAR began in 2006,” McGuire said. “Kim Smeets, Brenda Getzelman, Sheila Pollastrini and I originally started it as a project for a master’s degree program. District 301 decided to adopt the program.”

While McGuire and Smeets are still involved in the STAR program, Pollastrini is now teaching at Central High School. Getzelman, a math teacher at Prairie Knolls, has become involved in other programs, although she did help out with two of the STAR trips in 2013.

Now working with McGuire and Smeets in the STAR program are Hannah Zimmermann, eighth-grade science teacher at Central Middle, and Lindsay Govea, Central Middle library paraprofessional.

Sing with seniors

In the fall of 2013, McGuire said STAR students visited Food for Greater Elgin Food Pantry twice and Rosewood Care Center of Elgin twice.

“At the food pantry, they stocked shelves and prepared foods,” McGuire said. “They helped families put food items in shopping carts. They also raised $800 for the food pantry. They want to go back there again.”

“At Rosewood Care Center,” McGuire said, “the students worked with the seniors while playing games such as musical bingo and Senior Olympics-style basketball and bowling. The students did not originally like the old-time tunes that the seniors liked, but they were later singing along with them.”

McGuire said the STAR students want to visit other places. Since they are in their early teens, however, it has been difficult to find organizations that will allow the students to work there.

“STAR has given me opportunities that I never had before, like going to an old folks home,” said STAR student Ava Warner.

She said she was especially excited about visiting Anderson Animal Shelter since it is where her family adopted their cat, Chloe.

“I can’t wait until I turn 13 so I can be a volunteer here,” Ava said. “I’ve wanted to volunteer here since I was 10 years old. You have to be 13 years old to work with the cats and 17 years old to work with the dogs. Being with the animals helps to socialize them.”

“Cats can learn from us,” said STAR student Sophia Jandry. “They feel like they are being taken care of.”

“I like the STAR program a lot,” said STAR student Erin Keeny. “I like going on the field trips. I used to be uncomfortable talking to people. I’m not uncomfortable around people anymore. The STAR program does a lot to help both people and animals.”

Animal education

Elgin resident Christin Meyer, the shelter’s director of humane education, runs a Kids & Kritters program at the shelter that welcomes student groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and clubs. The two-hour interactive live animal encounters also can be used for birthday parties.

Meyer told the STAR students that she has three dogs, two cats and a ferret at her home that all play well together. She offered advice on how to approach animals.

“Never corner a cat or a dog,” Meyer said. “Always ask the owner if you can pet their animal. Animals like body language. If you put your hand out and the animal turns its head, it means he wants you to go away. Tail twitching shows a cat is agitated. If his ears are down and he’s hissing, he’s an angry cat.”

After the students fed their homemade treats to the dogs and gave the cats their cat toys, Meyer brought out a 12-week-old pit bull mix named Cutler.

Cutler is part of a cooperative effort between the shelter and Chicago Animal Care Control. According to Anderson Animal Shelter business manager Carole Faber, Cutler was one of a litter of six puppies that came to the shelter in October 2013. He was found during a drug bust in Chicago. His mother, who became aggressive during the raid, was shot and killed. Cutler was grazed by a bullet. Cutler underwent medical care and is now available for adoption. All of his siblings already have been adopted.

“Pit bulls have a bad reputation,” Meyer said. “They can be loving animals. You can’t tell an animal by its breed.”

Volunteers sought

Just before the STAR students left the shelter, they started talking about how they could further help the dogs and cats they had just visited. They discussed the possibility of writing about Cutler in their school newsletter.

Anderson Animal Shelter uses 4,500 pounds of dry food, 1,020 pounds of canned food, and 4,000 pounds of kitty litter every month. The shelter, a nonprofit organization, is always looking for volunteers. Its wish list includes dog and cat items, general pet supplies such as bowls and nail trimmers, and other supplies such as garbage bags, cleaning products newspapers, towels and blankets. More information on the shelter is available by calling 847-697-2880 or visiting

Organizations that may be interested in a STAR visit should email

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