Rescuing dogs in need during her younger years gave Grace Hamlin a life purpose, and today that same act, showing compassion to uncared for canines, is transforming the hearts of disadvantaged youth in the Peoplestown neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia.
Four years ago, Hamlin combined her ongoing effort to care for abandoned pups with a deep desire to reach out to the hurting children in her community, creating her nonprofit organization, W-Underdogs, Inc.
W-Underdogs, pronounced “Wonderdogs” is an appropriate name for her program, to Hamlin, because she refers to her young, underprivileged assistants as “friendly neighborhood superheroes.”
Hamlin, both the founder and CEO of W-Underdogs, Inc., prays her outreach approach has a lasting impact on the at-risk youth she works with.
Displaying kindness to forgotten animals can be a catalyst to continued achievement for decades, Hamlin tells each child who works for W-Underdogs, Inc.
She wants the less-fortunate young people in her program to carry into adulthood the sense of accomplishment her organization can provide them.
Had a work accident not sidelined Hamlin, she may have never opened her eyes to the condition of her Peoplestown neighborhood and seen the good she could ignite in the impoverished community and beyond.
Championing Lonely Children
After being injured on the job several years ago, Hamlin began taking notice of what was happening just on her street alone, and she was distraught over what was unfolding before her.
“I knew I lived in a less privileged area, but I did not realize things were out of control,” she told The Epoch Times. “I was focused on my work and rescuing dogs and basically closed the door to what was going on outside.”
While attempting to care for her outdoor garden with a broken arm, Hamlin often heard children crying and saw them roaming the neighborhood, without parental supervision.
By engaging in conversation with some of the older kids, Hamlin uncovered their fear of area gangs.
“I found out there was fighting going on and because of gangs, these children could not even go to the park,” she said. “I asked city officials what they were doing to help get kids off the streets and it did not seem like anyone was looking into this serious issue.”
Hamlin discovered some children, not yet old enough to attend school, spent all day locked outside of their homes while their parents slept, or they walked the streets for hours in the evening because their legal guardian had to leave them alone and go to work.
While overcome with compassion for these little ones, she got an idea.
“I was having a hard time, with my broken arm, managing the dogs I took in, so I asked some of the kids if they would like to help me and earn a little money in the process,” she said.
Hamlin sought permission from the children’s parents before putting them to work, and no one was opposed to her plan.
At first, she had the kids start with cleaning out the dogs’ cages and taking them for walks, so they could get regular exercise.
By the fall of 2013, Hamlin had about 12 children, ranging in age from 5 to 10, tending to these canines in need, under her guidance.
“Seeing how helpful they wanted to be and how helpful they were was just a beautiful thing,” Hamlin said of the children.
The kids felt good about themselves for working hard and enjoyed using the money they were paid to purchase a special lunch or dinner all by themselves, she said.
Since winter—when she typically comes across the most abandoned and abused dogs—was quickly approaching, Hamlin realized her concept had endless possibilities for the children, as well as for the animals who needed them, and she fully committed herself to this project.
W-Underdogs, Inc. is Born
In 2014, Hamlin officially created W-Underdogs, Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates solely on financial contributions and donations of supplies.
Her original mission remains: to address the challenges disadvantaged youth face and provide them with skills to overcome the difficulties in their lives, while caring for animals starving for attention and often, for food.
“I always was focused on saving animals, but when I saw these children, I knew they needed someone to care about their environment and the conditions in which they are living, too,” she said.
She quickly saw her vision energize the youth and families in her neighborhood, however, and watched as a transformation for the better started to take place in the community.
“Saving these dogs was rescuing the kids and developing in them self-satisfaction and self-esteem,” she said.
This experience made Hamlin reflect on her own humble beginnings, as she spent her first 10 years of life in an orphanage in Costa Rica.
Eventually, Hamlin was adopted by a woman who brought her home to Washington D.C. to raise her.
She went on to join the United States Army following high school, and spent a significant amount of time living in California before relocating to the Atlanta area in 2011.
Hamlin was seeing W-Underdogs, Inc. positively impacting her own outlook on life and sparking new dreams for her future, too.
W-Underdogs to the Rescue
Since its inception, Hamlin and her young helpers have teamed up to find the animals needing the most help.
After caring for the neglected animals for a while, Hamlin and the children began to take them to adoption events, as her property could only house so many dogs and cats at a time.
In addition to rescuing forgotten dogs and cats, the kids of W-Underdogs, Inc., through charitable donations, began to deliver dog food and even construct doghouses for canines in need.
Often, these doghouses are made from recyclable materials they find in the community, Hamlin said.
She and the children also began to clean up debris off the streets, perform yardwork duties around the area, and engage community officials in discussing how they can do their part to care for overlooked canines and children in the area.
“W-Underdogs began giving kids a voice,” she said. “The program started to really inspire kids to take pride in themselves. They realized the choices people make do matter.”
The nonprofit has even partnered with the animal cruelty task force to change the law to make it harder for animals to be abandoned and abused in the Atlanta area without repercussions.
By educating children on how to properly care for animals, the children have gone out to educate the neighborhood and beyond, she said.
Looking to the Future
Hamlin continues to help kids be the change they want to see and encourages them to reach out to authorities when they notice things in the neighborhood that need addressing.
“These children are heroes in a sense. They are bringing compassion to Atlanta,” she said. “There are endless possibilities for what these kids can do.”
The organization is now is providing services, including grooming and regular veterinarian check-ups not available in the area in years past, and has extended the scope of work into the Perkinson Park neighborhood.
“Helping animals have a better life is increasing the value of the lives these children are living,” Hamlin said.
Her vision for the next five years of W-Underdogs, Inc. is bright.
Currently, the nonprofit is fundraising to construct a 5,500 square foot building in Fulton County to serve as the headquarters for W-Underdogs, Inc. The new facility will connect the community with all the pet services needed in one location and allow the organization to work with more youth than ever before, saving numerous abandoned animals at the same time.
“I can just imagine our future,” she said with great anticipation. “W-Underdogs is making real, lasting changes and will continue to do so.”