Not many students can say that they have followed in the footsteps of the Fab Five—but Third and Seventh Graders at the Girls’ School of Austin are certainly an exception.
Earlier this month, both classes made their initial visits to Safe in Austin, a rescue shelter that serves animals and children with special needs. The shelter, featured on Season 6 of Netflix’s Queer Eye, immediately drew the attention of GSA staff when brainstorming students’ community service opportunities for the school year.
“I first learned about Safe in Austin from Netflix, from Queer Eye,” explained Ana Rie, who leads the Service Learning Program at the GSA. Intended to connect students to the greater Austin community, this program pairs each grade level with a local non-profit for students to volunteer with regularly throughout the school year. “It just made sense to reach out to an organization that ties into what we do regarding Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIEB).”
And in many ways, Safe in Austin is the ultimate haven for visitors to tap into their emotions and connect with those of diverse experiences—human or otherwise. Founded in 2014 by Jamie Wallace-Grimer, the organization currently houses over 170 animals with physical and mental disabilities, a majority of whom provide therapeutic respite to children under similar circumstances. The organization’s slogan, “rescue animals rescuing children,” is but a brief explanation of the extensive impact they have created within the Austin community.
“When [Jamie] received us, she gave an intro of what they do there and how they call everyone’s differences ‘superpowers,’” said GSA’s SEL and Diversity Director Lorna Torrado, who traveled to Safe in Austin with the Seventh Grade class on October 6th. “Some of our superpowers are visible, some of them are invisible, but we all have them.”
Third Grader Rhea Ramanujam also visited Safe in Austin the week beforehand with her class and members of Texas Darlins, a spirit and service organization at The University of Texas at Austin. She recounted the various animals she encountered after Wallace-Grimer’s empowering lesson.
“We pet the dogs, cats, and horses; we fed the tortoises some lettuce,” she shared excitedly. “We even got to feed some graham crackers to the goats, which was really fun because all of them would run up to us.”
Moreover, Seventh Grader Nori Rendon appreciated just how vulnerable Wallace-Grimer and her team were in sharing the stories of the shelter’s beloved animals, particularly those who have experienced abuse or neglect from previous owners.
“I thought it was pretty cool how they actually told us the stories of what happened to these animals and why they were there,” Nori said. “I was also pretty surprised that they could remember all their names, because there were a lot.”
Rhea further reflected on how much she empathized with the animals and their diverse superpowers.
“My whole life, I had just thought of animals as not really having any differences or disablements,” she shared. “I learned a lot about the different ways they can live.”
Her older sister, Seventh Grader Anishka Ramanujam, upheld a similar sentiment.
“We often hear about kids that get neglected through trauma, but it never really occurred to me that this could happen to animals, too. Some of the animals have gone through similar things as the kids, and they really help each other out. It put a lot into perspective for me.”
Not only did GSA students recognize how differently other humans and animals may experience day-to-day life, but they also found a healing space for themselves within Safe in Austin’s stables and pens.
“It’s empowering to be able to help these animals and make a difference,” shared Seventh Grader Bailey Murdock. “And everyone needs to be healed by animals—whether you’ve been through something traumatic or not.”
“It’s like therapy for yourself,” her classmate Anishka agreed.
Lorna Torrado also noted her students’ personal transformations during their visit to the rescue shelter.
“It was a good reminder to see how good animals are for stress. I felt it myself,” she recalled. “I saw the kids hugging cows and petting horses, and I saw how their bodies and postures changed. It was beautiful to see.”
Third Grader Mimi Kovarsky-Fu is excited for her next trip to Safe in Austin, where she and her classmates will be able to partake in volunteer activities.
“Next time, we’ll be able to visit more animals, because we’re supposed to be doing chores there,” she explained. “You get to be with all the cuddly animals, and it’s very sweet!”
Ana Rie is similarly excited for her students to continue learning and serving through Safe in Austin’s powerful mission this coming school year.
“We want our girls to know that activism is action,” she said. “We want them to see hope in the world and that we have the power to change things.”
To support the Service Learning Program and other empowering initiatives at the Girls’ School of Austin, please consider donating to our annual Firebird Fund. Your contributions are greatly appreciated, and we thank you for your continued support towards girls’ education, well-being, and personal growth.