Welcome to our 80th Graduation - Fall 2020

We won't be meeting in person on November 1 to celebrate our most recent Service Dog and Assistance Dog teams, but we are coming together as a community for a virtual celebration. Please enjoy the messages from NEADS staff and join us by signing our Guestbook and adding your message. Then flip through our Fall 2020 Graduation Yearbook, where you can meet all the graduates.

Meet the Graduates

(row 1)

Todd and Service Dog Hope (SDV)
Richard and Service Dog Roxanne (SDV)
Jack and Service Dog Elliott (SDV)
Rebecca and Service Dog Sully (SDV)

(row 2)

Paul and Service Dog Sage (SDV)
Don and Service Dog for Hearing Patty (SDV)
Stephen and Service Dog for Hearing Charlotte  (SDV)
Brenda and Service Dog for Hearing Windy (SDV)

(row 3)

Kathy and Service Dog for Hearing Clara (SDV)
Michelle and Service Dog for Hearing Zoey (SDV)

(row 4)

Matthew and Service Dog Honor (SDV)
Jeffrey and Service Dog Cody
Kitty and Service Dog for Hearing Kendall
Melissa and Service Dog for Hearing Ronnie

(row 5)

Larry and Service Dog for Hearing Dobby
Beth and Assistance Dog JD
Caroline and Assistance Dog Elena
Christina and Assistance Dog Carson

With your help, we can continue to support future Service Dog and Assistance Dog teams. Thank you!

Welcome from Gerry deRoche, NEADS CEO

Hi, I’m Gerry DeRoche. CEO of NEADS, and welcome to our 80th graduation and our second virtual graduation.

I’m here just outside the Sullivan Carriage House, which was built by the students of Monty Tech.

It seemed appropriate to have my introduction here, since normally we would be at Monty Tech for graduation.

We value that type of atmosphere for our clients.

We’re here to wish our graduates our best, we’re here to wish them a successful life of increased independence with their new canine partner.

We’re also here to recognize veterans. As we get close to Veterans’ Day we have a number of veterans in our graduating class.

Today, we're also making 2 special awards. First, we’re recognizing apprentice trainer Becca Hill, who has completed her apprentice training. It’s a 2-year program, and she is now a full NEADS Trainer.

We also realize that volunteers are really the backbone of NEADS; they help us in many different ways throughout the year.

Each year we recognize one volunteer who over an extended period displayed the energy, the values, and the commitment that makes NEADS what it is today.

It’s my pleasure to announce that Dr. Cynthia Crosson will be this year’s Spirit Award winner.

Again, welcome to our 80th graduation, and we hope you enjoy it.

Recognizing NEADS Trainer Becca Hill

Presented by Kathy Foreman, NEADS Director of Training

Our trainers must successfully complete a two-year apprenticeship program. This program covers all aspects of canine behavior and service dog training as well as mastering skills for instructing inmate handlers in our prison programs and instructing clients for on-campus training.

We would like to recognize and congratulate Becca Hill for completing her apprenticeship in May 2020. After receiving her Associate’s Degree, Becca started as a Hawkins Canine Center attendant in 2017. Her passion and goal was to train service dogs and connect people with disabilities to these special dogs as she started her journey at NEADS.

Becca was accepted into our apprentice trainer’s program the following year. The training staff soon recognized her determination, focus, and passion. They also saw that Becca was “a natural”, learning the skills with competence and maturity.

Becca had been the assistant trainer at our JJ Moran prison program in Rhode Island and became the lead trainer at JJ Moran, one of our larger prison programs, in the fall of 2019. *Here is a film clip of Becca describing her responsibilities.

We congratulate Becca for taking her passion and making it happen. We are proud to recognize her as a NEADS trainer.

NEADS Spirit Award 2020

Remarks by Kathy Foreman, Director of Training

I am delighted to introduce our Spirit Award recipient.  She is a woman of many accomplishments including licensed social worker, teacher and consultant, author of many textbooks on child abuse and post-traumatic stress and is the pastor of The First Congregational Church of Whately.

Our recipient has contributed to and supported many areas of our organization.  In 2005, she first became a graduate of our Service Dogs for the Ministry program with her beloved canine partner, Dandi, dispensing that unique dose of dog attention and human compassion for 15 years.  She served as a member of the NEADS Board of Directors from 2006 to 2015.  A fellow Board member described her as “a strong advocate for our clients and their families.”

Another huge role was her participation in our newly formed Canines for Combat Veterans program in 2007 (now called “Service Dogs for Veterans”) and, two years later, as the psychiatric consultant to our pilot program for veterans with post-traumatic stress; a role she has continued through today with our established TAD program, including writing a book for children dealing with a veteran parent with PTSD and a manual for wives or husbands.  A veteran who received a dog from our pilot program wrote, and I quote, “Our recipient is dedicated to serving those in need.  She was able to help take a thought about veterans dealing with PTSD and make it into not only the first but also the best program of its kind.”

Personally, as someone who has worked closely for many years with this amazing woman, I would like to add passionate, experienced and committed to NEADS and its mission.

Please join me in congratulating Dr. Cynthia Crosson who truly symbolizes our Spirit Award.

Remarks by Dr. Crosson

15 years ago I walked into NEADS and it changed my entire life. I was here to partner with Dandi, my Assistance Dog for Ministry, and he was something that changed my life incredibly.
Just before that time, I had lost my son Jamie to suicide from military-based PTSD. I was in need of something, and Dandi gave me real purpose for my life, and it was a wonderful experience to be partnered with that little 12-pound bundle of fir and enthusiasm and later devotion.

I went on to be part of various things at NEADS. I became friendly with then director Shelia O’Brien and she asked me to be on the Board of Directors.

And she knew that for many years I had worked with post-traumatic stress disorder as a therapist and as a researcher, and when she asked me to design a program for veterans with post traumatic stress, it was a surprise. So I worked with Kathy, and Brian Jennings, Erin, and other trainers to develop the program that we now have today., which is TAD

Through the whole process I learned a great deal about healing, about why my son took his own life, and about dogs. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.

I am very thankful for all the people who helped along the way. Trainers, Kathy certainly.

I am also pleased to say that Kevin, who was one of our first veterans in the TAD program, is now working at NEADS, an integral part of continuing the program with Kathy, Katy, and the trainers.

I’m thankful too for Gerry for your support, and for the many, many people at NEADS who have been very supportive of TAD.

I’m also thankful that it gave me the fodder to write a book You Cannot Cage the Wolf, about this experience.

My beloved Dandi passed away on September 5th of this year, exactly 15 years to the day that I walked in to NEADS to do the training with him.
So, I’m really glad and thankful to have this award. I’m very honored.

All in all, I think that all the things that NEADS have given me it has probably been a draw in terms of what I’ve given you. So thank you very much.

From the NEADS Staff


Supporting NEADS Veteran Clients

NEADS is proud of its partnership with several organizations that are integral to the NEADS community: the Blue Star Mothers of Leominster , Blue Star Mothers of Worcester, Quilts of Valor, and Angel Flight Northeast. The Blue Star Mothers have been providing meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – for veteran clients during their training on campus since 2006. The Quilts of Valor have presented beautiful, hand-made quilts to each of our veteran clients since 2010.

Angel Flight Northeast, which provides free flights and ground transportation for those requiring access to medical care, transported two of our graduating veteran clients. They flew Brenda round trip from Colorado to NEADS for her training with Service Dog for Hearing Windy and Kathryn round trip from Wisconsin for her training with Service Dog for Hearing Clara.

From the Blue Star Mothers Chapter 3:

Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your graduation celebration. We were honored to be able to cook and bake for all of you, and we wish Michelle, Don, Kathryn, Matthew, Brenda, Stephen, Jack, Todd, Rebecca, Richard, and Paul along with all of your new best friends a very happy future together. If you EVER need us please let us know.

Blue Star Mothers, Chapter 3 MA

From the Blue Star Mothers Leominster Chapter:


From the NEADS Shop

You may not be able to visit the traditional NEADS Shop at Graduation, but there are plenty of items in the online shop: NEADS gear, dog gear and treats, books, stuffies, and more. Check it out today!