A few years ago, after her little sister spent time in the hospital during the Christmas season, Westminster Christian School senior Carolina Gonzalez created Winston Smiles, a community service project to help hospitalized children.
“She was down because they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her,” Gonzalez says. “The time they brought in a therapy dog… it made her so happy. I began researching and taking the steps to become certified after that situation.”
Gonzalez, who is the Westminster Silver Knight nominee for General Scholarship, worked with her dog, Winston, to teach him the proper behavior so she could take him to Kendall Regional Hospital as a participant in the Pawsitive Touch Pet Therapy program.
She had Winston certified in Sept. 2016 by Share-a-Pet. When she got Winston into hospitals, she also had him certified through Therapy Dogs International.”
She goes to the hospital once a week. While there, they visit the pediatric unit, the pediatric intensive care unit and they also provide stress relief to hospital staff.
“It usually makes them happy to be able to stop for a moment,” she says. “A minute that they can relax.”
The visits are worthwhile. She’s had cases where the parents of pediatric patients have expressed gratitude because of Winston’s visits.
“They notice a difference on how they are feeling or their attitude,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m able to do something for the families and the kids when they can’t do anything. I can give them so joy, so it’s the best feeling.”
Winston has also helped calm Westminster students when they take finals. Last year, Gonzalez took Winston to school so students could pet him between finals. Westminster usually brings shelter dogs to the school for finals but they couldn’t last year.
She hopes to be able to continue Winston Smiles when she comes on from college on breaks. Currently she’s leaning toward the University of Central Florida where she’s been accepted into the Honors College.
“They have a program there where they partner with an organization where you have a pup that stays with you in your dorm, you train that dog and it’s given to someone as an emotional support animal,” she says.
The program dovetails with her plan to be a veterinarian. She’ll be a biology major but on a pre-vet track so she can go on to vet school.
At Westminster she is a member of the student council. Last year she was chaplain. This year she’s on the leadership committee. She’s the co-chair of the community service and clubs committee.
“I plan community service opportunities for the whole school with my committee,” she says.
Gonzalez is a member of the Science National Honor Society, the National Honor Society, the English Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, the Foreign Language Honor Society, and the Tri M Music Honor Society.
She played stand-up bass in the orchestra in tenth and eleventh grade. Because she was in orchestra, she participated in a community service project called Heartstrings where orchestra members would play at nursing homes and community centers.
The last couple of years, Gonzalez has been doing the make-up and hair for the students involved in drama productions. Her sisters are in drama and so she offered to help out.
She volunteers with the Born Free Pet Shelter. She started collecting food for the shelter with the goal of helping with adoptions.
She also cleaned cages and helped socialize the dogs. Now she brings in people who want to adopt the dogs and she helps with the annual fundraiser.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld