Marianne Sharon

Marianne Sharon M ’11 helps pet lovers say good bye

Marianne Sharon Marianne Sharon, M’11 followed her Franciscan instincts to form a community support group that is helping pet owners cope with the loss of their beloved animals.

FAREWELL furry friend
America collectively wept out loud when Marley, John Grogan’s ailing and aging yellow lab, was euthanized in the hit film (and best-selling book) Marley & Me. In fact, our combined national attachment to furry friends has grown so strong that coping with the loss of a cat, dog or any pet can lead to serious grief, despair and even depression.

“Animal lovers are a special breed of humans, generous of spirit, full of empathy, perhaps a little prone to sentimentality and with hearts as big as a cloudless sky,” said Grogen in his book.

Undeniably, Americans love their pets. We buy them expensive food, apparel and accessories; provide top-rate health care; assure that they’re properly socialized; and take them with us when we travel.

When our pets get sick, we seek treatment and provide comfort. And when our pets die, we mourn.

For years, historians, scientists and anthropologists have studied the important relationships between humans and animals, trying to better understand their interactions and influence upon one another. Marianne M. Sharon, a 2011 graduate of Alvernia’s Master’s program in community counseling, is someone who has great appreciation for the special bond shared between humans and animals. She also understands the pain and sense of loss that occurs when a pet passes away.

That, coupled with a commitment to give back to a community that has supported her, inspired Sharon to start a free support group for people who have lost pets. The animals we keep, Sharon affirmed, contribute significantly to our lives.

“Animals give us some of the most wonderful, most unconditional love we ever get,” she said. “Animals bring out the best in us because they make us trust and show us how to love.”

Sharon said the greatest value of a support group for people who have lost a cherished pet is that it validates their grief and allows them to express it in a non-judgmental setting. Pet owners often feel that they’re discouraged from mourning for a pet — that somehow they are not entitled to do so.

The pet loss support group is Sharon’s passion, and her way of giving back to a caring Berks County, Pa., community.

She also works as a behavioral specialist consultant/mobile therapist. And, one day a week, she provides therapy for clients with dual diagnosis of drug/ alcohol and mental health problems.

Her decision to establish a pet loss support group was motivated by a loss of her own. Miss Pumpkin, Sharon’s much-loved beagle had died, and she was troubled by the loss. When she needed to come up with an idea for a senior project during the last year of her master’s degree, a support group seemed to be a good solution.

She queried some local veterinarians to see if they thought people who had lost pets would attend a support group with others experiencing the same loss. Their answer was a resounding “yes.”

“So, I did some research and put together a lot of information on pet loss,” Sharon said. “And, before too long I was meeting with people who needed a safe place to share their feelings about losing their pets.”

Meeting once a month in a local library, the group fluctuates in size and makeup of attendees. Some are parents who want to be able to help children cope with the impending loss of a pet, while others are people who live alone and are badly missing an animal that has died. Couples without children, whose pet may have taken on the role of a child, also depend on the group.

Sharon, who received support during her time at Alvernia from university personnel and community members, said she was encouraged to reach out to the community by her Alvernia professors and the school’s Franciscan tradition of giving back.

“I just had so much support from the Sisters and others here,” she said. “And, now I’m looking at what I can do to give back to the community.”

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Delucia   Martin Luther King Day of service spring 2013   Delucia Marianne Sharon M '11 helps pet lovers say good bye

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A National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study found that participating employers and recent college graduates agreed on the necessity of out of the classroom experiences. The study emphasizes the importance of providing students with important knowledge and skills but also experience putting that knowledge and skills to practical use in "real-world" settings.

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Seventy-six percent of participating employers put "teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings" at the top of their list of desired capabilities in new employees, according to a National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study. These are among the skills fostered by real-world learning experiences.

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Service learning is a method of providing personal and academic development through work with established nonprofit organizations in the community. It is an avenue to introduce students to a professional environment without the extensive commitments of an internship.

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Service learning provides ideal real world learning opportunities. According to SmartBlog on Leadership, doing volunteer and service work for a non-profit organization that is connected to your major or academic program of study helps develop leadership skills, expands your perspective of the world, allows you to discover new skills in a safe environment, and develops a larger network of real world contacts to draw upon once you graduate.

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Service learning can take you outside of your comfort zone, giving you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics and interpersonal dynamics. It also offers new perspective on priorities. Hanging out with people who have had different life experiences encourages you to tackle challenges from different angles. Julie Zolfo, founder of Make Success Matter said that she volunteered for six weeks at the schools in New Delhi, India.

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"Alvernia's Career Development Center works with students to find avenues for employment, internships, co-ops, career exploration, resume development, and graduate school options. Center staff help students assess their options and identify their own "brand" to complement their life after Alvernia.

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A recent career fair at Alvernia attracted more than 55 employers who were seeking to hire employees, co-ops and interns for their organizations. Career fairs like this one are fertile ground for students seeking real world learning opportunities and to reap the benefits of such as employers look to to hire staff members who have honed their skills and abilities via practical experiences in real situations.

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Since its inception, Alvernia has offered real world opportunities with an emphasis on service and careers that help those in need. Field experiences in areas like criminal justice, social work, nursing, occupational therapy, health care science and teacher training among others provide our students with rich learning opportunities to test drive what it's like to work in that profession.

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In a recent American Association of Colleges and Universities survey of 302 employers, 79 percent said institutions of higher learning should emphasize helping students apply what they learn in real-world settings, and 66 percent said that completing an internship or community field project would help prepare students for success.