After Parkland-Based Organizations Reject Pleas for Help, Former Teacher Turns to Community for Service Dog to Help with PTSD
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas teacher Ivy Schamis {courtesy}

By Sallie James

The donations poured in after Parkland Talk reported that former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Ivy Schamis needed help paying for a service dog after she was rebuffed by two major Parkland nonprofits. 

Schamis suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and needs a service dog to help reclaim her life after teaching a class on February 14, 2018, when two of her students were killed during a mass shooting at her school.

A story detailing Schamis’ plight inspired well-wishers, old friends, parents, and a slew of anonymous donors to step up and click “donate” on a fundraising website for the dog. Days later, donors had completely funded the $16,000 cost for the service dog and its extensive training. 

“People went above and beyond. I was really in shock,” said Schamis, who moved to Washington, D.C., two years after the school shooting because she was too traumatized to continue teaching. “It is very hard for me to say I deserve this. It really humbled me that people said, ‘I will never forget what you did for me.’”

The Parkland-based nonprofit Shine MSD pushed donations for the service dog over the top with a $5,500 donation, even though the organization focuses on healing through the arts.

Community Rallies to Fund Service Dog for Shooting Survivor Teacher Who Was Rebuffed by Parkland Charities
Thanks to the community, a teacher with PTSD will receive one of these dogs from Steadfast Service Dogs.

“We are not big on ‘no,’” said Joe Garrity, president of Shine MSD, whose daughter had Schamis as a teacher. “We want to get people to help any way we can. It seemed so easy. We had the money, and we had the will, so that was what we were going to do.”

Garrity said Shine MSD Board members were determined to help because Schamis had taught all the students who founded Shine MSD five years ago. His own daughter Sawyer, who is studying music therapy at the University of Miami, also has a service dog.

Schamis had contacted two other Parkland charities, but both told her they could not help.

Parkland Cares, a nonprofit formed after the mass shooting, said in an email that they do not fund individual aid, speakers, or affected partiespersonal expenses when asked why they declined to help Schamis. Eagles Haven, another local nonprofit, said they did not have money in their budget to fund service dogs but would try to help in other ways.

Schamis was teaching about the Holocaust when Nikolas Cruz poked his AR-15 through a window and sprayed her class with bullets. High school students Helena Ramsay and Nicholas Dworet, both 17, died in the hail of gunfire that peppered Schamis’ classroom.

Schamis was one of three teachers who had students murdered in their classrooms that day. She taught for two years after the shooting, then resigned after 20 years, unable to collect her full pension.

She is filled with excitement and hope about her service dog.

This week is an exciting one for Schamis, who will be matched on Wednesday with her dog, a German Shepherd puppy from Steadfast Service Dogs. She will bring the pup home to Washington D.C. for two and a half months of bonding, then return to North Carolina for obedience training, said Gwen Sadowski, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Steadfast Service Dogs in Fayetteville. Complete training is likely to take 18 months or more, Sadowski said.

If Schamis’ puppy is female, she plans to name her Sayde after her paternal grandmother. If the puppy is male, he will be named Norman after Schamis’ father, who died last December.

Schamis said she was amazed that people cared enough to contribute to the cost of her service dog. Students she taught years ago have reached out to her.

One woman whose son she had taught in the early 2000s donated $1,800. Schamis said she had arranged for the teen’s grandmother to share her experiences as a Holocaust survivor during one of Schamis’ classes. Then, after the woman died, the family realized the video of that classroom presentation was the only one they had of their grandmother discussing the Holocaust, Schamis said.

“It’s unbelievable. You just don’t know who you affected,” she marveled. “I taught a lot of their children and always tried to model my teaching by putting myself in the shoes of the students. I can’t get over how I must have touched those people. I feel very overwhelmed. This is not how I usually operate. I like to do things for others.”

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Author Profile

Sallie James
Sallie James
Sallie James is a veteran reporter/blogger/copywriter who spent most of her writing career in South Florida, including 22 years at the Sun Sentinel. She has also freelanced for The Coastal Star, South Florida Gay News & Florida Weekly. Sallie is the mother of grown boy/girl twins, a Guardian ad Litem, an animal rescuer, and a longtime Tamarac resident. She earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Indiana University.
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