Twenty one year-old Zara Werner, from Herne Bay, is getting ready to be awarded the Cinnamon Trust Young Volunteer of the Year award at the world's greatest dog show, Crufts, next month.
Zara, who is currently at Canterbury Christ Church University studying events management, first started volunteering in 2011 when she was taking part in her Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. She wanted to choose a charity where she was able to help someone in her local community on a personal level; this is where she found the Cinnamon Trust, the national charity for the elderly, the terminally ill and their pets.
At first Zara was paired with a young energetic dog who calmed down considerably for her elderly owner after frequent walks with the young volunteer. After a short break from volunteering, Zara soon began helping with the Cinnamon Trust again, this time walking the dogs of an older woman whose recent surgery meant she was unable to give her pets any exercise. She walked them every week until their owner was back on her feet.
Zara met Maureen Sharp and her two dogs, Candy and Toffee, in 2014, and has been walking the dogs every week, come rain or shine, ever since. Zara and Maureen have also struck up a strong friendship, and both women look forward to each other's company each week, Maureen even regards Zara as her honorary grand-daughter.
Despite finishing her Duke of Edinburgh award, Zara is continuing to volunteer for Maureen and others whilst juggling university work and a part time job in a bar.
Speaking about her win, Zara said: "I feel honoured to be have been chosen out of all the other amazing volunteers! It was such a shock when I was informed as volunteering has become part of my weekly routine so it's easy to forget you are actually volunteering. I am really grateful to the Cinnamon Trust for choosing me."
When speaking about heading to Crufts next month, Zara said: "I have watched Crufts growing up as a child, so it is a really exciting opportunity for me to go, let alone to collect an award there. It is definitely a 'pinch me' moment!"
Thanks to Zara's help, Maureen has been able to keep her dogs, as Zara has given Candy and Toffee the exercise that sometimes Maureen may not have been able to provide.
Zara will receive the prestigious Cinnamon Trust Young Volunteer of the Year trophy at Crufts on Saturday 12th March at 12pm in the Young Kennel Club ring.
Mrs Averil Jarvis, Founder and Chief Executive of the Cinnamon Trust, said: "Zara's commitment and kindness has brought sunshine into the lives of two little dogs and one lovely lady. For this, she more than deserves this accolade."
In conjunction with the Young Kennel Club, the Cinnamon Trust encourages young people who love dogs to help older people who also love dogs but are unable to fully care for their canine companion themselves. It's a win-win-win situation - the dog wins as they get a fun walk and stay healthy, the owner wins as they get peace of mind with a happy dog, and the young volunteer wins as they make new friends and gain a great sense of pride.