A former 2013-14 Miss Lino Lakes Ambassador was on cloud nine this spring when an idea became a reality.
Wyoming resident Rachel Huset, a 2014 Forest Lake grad, interned with Island Dolphin Care (IDC) in Key Largo, Florida, for six weeks in March and April.
“Ever since I was 11 or 12 I have wanted to work with dolphins. Throughout school I realized sciences really weren’t my thing,” she recalled. “I didn’t really think about animal behavior or anything else at that point, and I am not really an animal person: I am a dolphin person.”
While in high school, Huset was a personal care attendant (PCA) for a young girl with disabilities and found another passion. “It sparked my interest. I developed this joy and love for being around people with disabilities. They bring a different outlook on life and a joy to the world that I don’t see in other people,” she said.
That experience not only taught her how to be patient but motivated her to become an intern with the Special Olympics.
After she graduated, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where she majored in business administration and psychology. She graduated in December 2017.
During her freshman year of college, Huset got to thinking back to her PCA experiences and how that young girl did both water and horseback therapy.
“I was brushing my hair getting ready for class, when I randomly thought, ‘I bet you could use dolphins for therapy,’” she said. Huset began searching online for dolphin therapy but didn’t find much. Eventually, she stumbled across IDC and realized the organization offered internships, but there were some requirements. She had to be 21 and she had to have a certain major, one of which could be psychology.
“As far as I know, they are the only place that offers
dolphin-assisted therapy in the U.S.,” she said. “It (business administration and psychology) ended up being a really great combination for me. I absolutely loved it. I use psych more than business anyway in dealing with people.”
So Huset waited patiently until she completed all of the requirements, then applied for the 2018 season and was accepted.
IDC was created in 1997 to help children with special needs and their families but has expanded to include adults and veterans. The programs are designed for people who have developmental and/or physical disabilities, emotional challenges and critical, chronic or terminal illness. The nonprofit organization holds that everyone deserves the opportunity to play, giggle and have fun.
During her six weeks, Huset explained she worked with mostly children who were dealing with a variety of things, including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, heart conditions, depression/anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“I found a lot of the people were coming to get an escape from reality because of procedures, therapies, doctors, a lot of stress,” she said. “Their goal was to relax and escape for a bit.”
During her internship, Huset learned a lot about dolphins. She worked alongside therapists to help brainstorm ideas and activities they could do with the families to reach their specific goals, which often included building confidence and increasing self-esteem.
While in the water with the dolphins, the children worked on their fine or gross motor skills by learning the proper hand signals from trainers to make the dolphins do tricks.
“It was cool to see the families interacting with each other and being involved with the therapy. For a family to come for the five days, just for the therapy alone is $2,200, that doesn’t include the travel or activities they are doing outside of therapy,” Huset said. She noted that IDC often provides scholarships to families in need.
Huset added, “The impact they are making on their life it is something that they are always going to remember and cherish.”
After the internship, Huset realized that idea she had randomly one day while brushing her hair was so much more than an idea, it was already creating memories these families would cherish and remember forever. “It was not just an idea, it was actually affecting people’s lives,” she said.
These days, Huset is working with the Taste of NFL planning for Super Bowl 2020 in Miami. Her ultimate dream is to one day make her way back to Key Largo and work for IDC. She currently volunteers her time to the organization in hopes of finding some more sponsors to raise money for the nonprofit.
“I feel so passionate about them and what they are doing. I want to help them get more money and stay alive and keep doing what they are doing,” she said.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or email@example.com.