How do you improve the world for people, animals, and the environment? If you’re Jesse Miller, you start a non-profit that focuses on Humane Education. EPIC Outreach is an organization in Florida with a mission to create a kinder world by educating, networking, providing resources, and doing community outreach.
ALLISON: When and how did you become a humane educator?
JESSE: I have been involved in animal welfare most of my life. Since I’ve been 16 years old, I volunteered at my local animal shelter. I’ve also educated through various job roles including that of an animal control officer and in Sea Turtle Outreach and Protection. In my 40’s, I achieved my Certified Humane Education Specialist from the Humane Society of United States (now run by the Academy of Prosocial Learning). Three years ago, I started a nonprofit in 2015 that focuses on education outreach.
ALLISON: Why do you consider humane education important?
JESSE: Humane Education is a way to have a lasting impact and effect positive change for people, pets, and the planet. As an animal control officer I saw first hand the change that would occur when I took the time to share information with people rather than reprimand them, write a citation, or confiscate a pet because they lacked the knowledge on the right thing to do. Sharing information and providing people with tools to be better has a ripple effect. Until we know better we can’t do better–education provides the opportunity to do better. I think to myself how many times I have learned about something I knew nothing about and then did that thing better because I was now more educated on it. Humane Education takes time and has to be done continuously, but the effort is worth it. Humane Education can have a lasting impact.
ALLISON: Share a memorable story from working with volunteers
JESSE: EPIC Outreach is an all-volunteer organization. In 2017, we ran a week-long summer camp with 1/2 day camps everyday for a week. It was a huge undertaking and we pulled it off with an all-volunteer “staff” that included my sister, niece, a few young adults, and another dedicated humane educator. While it was a lot of work, the rewards were endless. The kids didn’t want the camp to end, and by the end of the week everyone was asking if they could come back the following year. I owe that success to the volunteers who helped to make it a seamless event.
ALLISON: Share a memorable story from working with pet owners.
JESSE: Major is a dog that EPIC Outreach encountered while delivering pet food to under-served communities. Major is a success story of time and patience and working with people in our community who love their pets but sometimes need a little help. Major was living outside on a chain with a dog house and during my visits I was able to plant seeds of kindness and better pet care. Over time his living space moved from way in the back of the yard where he was forgotten to the side yard right in front of the driveway where he was more visible. Then one day we showed up with dog food and broke down in tears when Major greeted us inside the house. That is true victory! This didn’t happen overnight but took time and patience, compassion, kindness, and non-judgement. We met people where they were and working with them.
ALLISON: How do you juggle your offerings–presentations, pet food bank, and blog?
JESSE: Ha, that is the million dollar question. I can’t change everything and solve all the concerns of the world, but if I get up everyday and try to have some kind of impact then I am making a difference. Doing something is effecting change and makes the people of our world a little more compassionate each and every day.
This is what matters. If everyone did a little bit to be kinder, more loving this world would be a more compassionate place. And it really doesn’t have to be big. It could be writing an inspirational quote on social media, smiling at someone, buying a bag of pet food for a struggling neighbor who loves their dog, or fostering a kitten.
JESSE: I have always had ideas to write children’s books. I believe that reading and learning is that thing that gives us something no one can take away. Sharing the messages of the animals I write about in the books I have created (there are 2 now) helps spread a message of kindness because the stories are real and the messages are powerful. I love creating and I believe kids learn through illustrating stories.
ALLISON: How has doing humane education changed you?
JESSE: I believe Humane Education is my calling and passion. I love it, I learn from it, and I hope to be doing it when I am 100 years young. I learn about myself when I am creating curriculum and also when I am engaging with kids or parents. I love the most seeing the kids or parents really get what they are learning and hearing the stories of how they are going to use what they learned and help their pet or a neighbors pet. The kids and the families inspire me to keep doing more.
ALLISON: What are the challenges with this field?
JESSE: The biggest challenges is that Humane Education isn’t tangible in the way pet adoptions are. It can be hard to show the importance of Humane Education to others. We live in an information overload world where parents and teachers are just trying to get through the basics in life, and so Humane Education isn’t viewed as a need but as a luxury done only if there is time.
JESSE: Get involved and have fun. Stay committed even when it feels like you aren’t making a difference. Our work might not be directly visible, but the work we do has lasting impacts. We never know how what we share will impact a persona, an animal, or our planet for days, weeks, years to come. What we share in an after school program or a camp could get passed on to another person who shares it with someone else. It all helps change the world.
ALLISON: Anything else you’d like to add?
JESSE: We need more Humane Educators. Kids are sponges; they want to grow and learn. When Humane Education is available, we can nurture the compassion and kindness already within them and provide them with the knowledge and skill to be compassionate adults. When we can provide Humane Education to adults we can shift their perspective so that they make better more compassionate decisions. Positive change is possible through Humane Education.
I hope to one day soon have a HE Resource Center where summer camps, after school programs, and continuing education can exist year round teaching and inspiring kindness for all.