Norton Seal Volunteers playing with a dog.

Support for Your Dream

Retrieving Freedom, Fulfilling a Dream

A guide to being in the business of community service.

  1. SCOTT DEWEY: The easiest thing I can is say is that we train service dogs for placement with disabled veterans and kids with autism — even though it's so much more than that.

    INTERVIEWER: So much more.

    On screen: Scott Dewey, Co-Founder, Retrieving Freedom

    SCOTT DEWEY: But there's also this part that includes impacting the community, we can't get these dogs from point A to point B without a lot of help. If I could take — and help others along the way — of getting that dog ready to be placed with a veteran or a child. That's what Retrieving Freedom is all about.


    SCOTT DEWEY: It's getting those dogs ready to save lives through the helping of the community to do it. We mainly place dogs 100% with disabled veterans and kids with autism. They come, they stay in these bedrooms.

    SCOTT DEWEY: Oftentimes, we'll have two or three veterans here at one time, and they hang out, and they talk about their dogs. The huge part is following how that dog behaves and works with them without our presence.

    SCOTT DEWEY: How can we help these women and men that have served our country?


    SCOTT DEWEY: What we're doing is we're actually giving them a living being 24 hours a day seven days a week to help with nightmare interruption, to help with going into public — to be there for you when maybe some others aren't.


    SCOTT DEWEY: And that's what got me involved.

    On screen: Jess St. John, Veteran and Recipient

    JESS ST. JOHN: You come home, and you're used to one way of life and then you go to a different way of life — and sometimes your body just reacts like you're still there, or you have a traumatic event happen, and it just starts to bring these things back up that you didn't realize.

    JESS ST. JOHN: Before I had Victor, I would check the locks of my house religiously. I would always be peeking out my window. You know I did a lot of things that I didn't realize were repetitive or abnormal, and with him around if I hear that noise, I'm not gonna go investigate it right away. 'Cause I know if it's something that's truly there, he's gonna get up before me, so the biggest thing I guess with Victor is — I am just not on high alert all the time.

    SCOTT DEWEY: You can see that the minute you put somebody with a dog —


    SCOTT DEWEY: — where they go from being a little bit nervous: they're not sure they want to be here, they're not sure that we can help them, to all of a sudden having a smile on their face and they're petting this dog that's — The first meeting oftentimes is the best for me.

    INTERVIEWER: And that's why I love the name. I mean you are really helping people retrieve their freedom to be able to go and do those things that so many people consider normal. You're helping them just walk into that, whether it's veterans or those families with kids with autism. To be able to actually experience that freedom again, it's such a gift.

    SCOTT DEWEY: So retrieve is regain or recover and freedom is unrestricted use. So if you can reframe or recover your unrestricted use, then your independence increases in your life. That's what we do. We retrieve that that freedom.

    JESS ST. JOHN: So many people get fulfilled by coming here and working with the dogs. He impacts everybody's life. It's fun to watch.

    On screen: Keegan Birkicht, Program Coordinator

    Keegan Birkicht: We hear a lot of veterans say that their dogs pick them, and that could not be more true. The dogs truly know when somebody needs them. Dogs would not survive without their people, and in our case a lot of people wouldn't survive without their dogs. And so, it's so special to see an animal saving somebody's life — and to see that relief across their face is what we live for here — it really is.

    INTERVIEWER: So we're wrapping up a beautiful day in Waverley, and to see one person begin a dream, but then so many have come around to make a reality. I hope that this story inspires you to think about some of your own dreams and to start to walk them out, but as you do, invite others in to the journey and just see where it takes you.

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To dedicate your life to bettering the lives of others is no small feat. It takes a special person and, even with all the passion in the world, can’t be done alone or without a solid strategy — something Scott Dewey is the first to admit.

As the founder of Retrieving Freedom, Scott, with the help of his staff and dedicated community volunteers, trains service dogs for Military Veterans with disabilities and PTSD, and children with autism.

“From 2000-2012, I trained competition dogs,” says Scott. “In 2010, I was asked what I thought about training service dogs for individuals with disabilities. Something changed in me that very day. I began to research the training and abilities that these dogs could provide, I became more intrigued and began working and training several dogs on my own time to try and see if this was something I was capable of.”

After the initial experimentation, Scott quickly realized the potential of this idea and his excitement grew. But he knew that talk was just talk, and action was the only way forward.

“Many people have a dream, yet it is taking the risk, hard work and the help of others that make it a reality,” expresses Scott. “I needed to show others through my actions and results that this was a reality, as talking about it was really no more than just talking about it.”

From here, his dream blossomed from a question into a full-blown operation. But, even with the admirable intent behind this initiative, there were obstacles to overcome.

“We needed to start somewhere, yet there were so many unknowns,” claims Scott. “How were we going to fund the organization? How will I pay my bills? Would we succeed?”

Over time, these questions were carefully thought out and answered. And Scott gained some valuable knowledge along the way! So, if you’re looking for some insight into how to open your own non-profit, he’s got some advice that can help.

Find your niche. “Don’t make your mission too broad — stay true to your sweet spot!” advises Scott.

While it’s great to aspire to help others, you can make the biggest impact by narrowing your focus. So define what it is you will do and what services you will offer to your community up front, vs. muddling through all the options as you go along.

Pay attention to detail. Once you’ve defined your specific goals, it’s time to get started. But jumping in blind is not the way to go. There’s a lot of little things to consider when opening a business or non-profit, and overlooking any of them could derail your progress. So do yourself a favor and pay attention to detail. And if something is totally out of your comfort zone, lean on your support system to help you out.

“Attention to detail is very important to making a successful start in opening a business,” explains Scott. “You can’t use the excuse that you didn’t know a form was required or that no one told you your business needed a sales tax ID. The challenge comes in trying to start on a budget that doesn’t allow paid consultation. Seek the knowledge in relationships that you have and build off those to help reduce the overall cost of consulting. And take the time to research the requirements and learn them for yourself! You can make mistakes, but lack of effort is not a mistake.”

Share the responsibility — and success. Everything has the potential to be more successful with the help of others. So as you grow your concept into a business, find staff and volunteers you can count on to be there for the ups and downs along the way. And look for ways to weave in your community.

“For me, the most rewarding part of seeing this dream come to reality is the lives that have been changed and even saved in the process,” shares Scott. “But more specifically it is really sharing this overwhelming feeling of success with others that have offered their time and resources. Community involvement is directly responsible for the success of Retrieving Freedom. And this involvement is a two-way street. Our dogs that are in training for a future veteran or child spend 22 months in training within the community helping with kids in the classrooms, college-level classes, troubled teen involvement, church presentations, visits to nursing homes and so much more. It takes a village to train a service dog for Retrieving Freedom.”

Go for it! But be smart. With any dream, there are risks. But overcoming your fears is an important part in leading a fulfilled life. As long as you’re smart about assessing the uncertainties, you should feel empowered to go for it.

“If your fear is greater than your chance at success, you probably have not dedicated yourself fully to your dream,” believes Scott. “Understand there should always be a risk vs. reward assessment done in your situation, but the only thing standing in your way of making a dream into a reality is hard work and effort. Actions speak much louder than words, and if your actions do not support your dream, it will fail.”

Opening a business or pursuing a non-profit related dream is likely to make you uneasy. There’s no telling if your efforts will land or flop, but the only way to know for sure is to take a page from Scott’s book — harness your passion and take a chance.

“Walking away from a successful business, comfortable lifestyle and generous clients was probably the scariest and most invigorating day of my life!” shares Scott. “But I knew how important this calling had become and how much it had touched my heart to see the results. As I look back now and recall

some of the conversations and letters from supporters, volunteers and recipients, I really wonder what I was so scared of.”

Need even more support? We’re here to help! Join the dream movement today — we’ve got just the resources to motivate and guide you along any dream pursuit!

According to Scott Dewey, the founder of Retrieving Freedom, building a non-profit cannot be done alone or without strategy. Here are some inspiring tips to get you in the business of community service.

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