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“Puppy Love Program” wins National Public Relations Campaign Award

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – July 12, 2012 – – A program bringing tiny puppies, young schoolchildren, and seniors with giving hearts together to impact the lives of visually impaired individuals was recently recognized with a coveted national honor.

The public relations campaign for “Atlantic Shores/Guiding Eyes for the Blind Puppy Love Program” was honored at the 10th Annual American Business Awards as the Silver “Stevie Award” winner in the Public Relations Campaign of The Year category. This designation honors the program as the second most successful community relations P.R. campaign in the nation for 2012.

The American Business Awards are the nation’s premier business awards program, recognizing exceptional business campaigns in categories ranging from management and marketing, to public relations. A record number of nominations were submitted this year from organizations of all of industries and sizes. The Puppy Love Program was selected as a finalist among public relations campaigns from such major companies as LifeLock, Entergy Corporation, and Time-Warner Cable. The awards were presented on June 18, 2012 during ceremonies at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City.

Launched on October 27, 2011, the Puppy Love Program is one of the first in the nation to link the generations in a partnership to provide guide dogs matched to deserving individuals. The program was designed and came to life at Atlantic Shores, an energetic 100-acre retirement community in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which embraced their newest, smallest residents two black Labrador puppies.

This unique program is a partnership with Guiding Eyes For The Blind (GEB), an internationally accredited, nonprofit guide dog school with a 50-year legacy of providing the blind and visually impaired with superior Guiding Eyes dogs and lifetime support services, for free. This inspiring organization relies on volunteers for the critical first step of basic obedience training and socialization for their puppies.

Specially selected black lab puppies, Joanie and Godrick, were matched with Atlantic Shores resident raisers who, along with a support team of fellow residents and Atlantic Shores staff, opened their homes and hearts to raise the puppies during a critical time in their lives.

Partnerships were also formed with Ocean Lakes and Corporate Landing elementary schools in Virginia Beach, where the puppies made socialization field trips, and where special curriculum helped students understand the invaluable service these puppies will eventually provide, and how to properly interact with guide dogs they see in the community.

While living at Atlantic Shores, the puppies became integrated into the dog-friendly senior campus, with the puppies attending such resident activities as Arts & Crafts, and unique events like “Yappy Hours” with special treats for both human and canine residents. The pups also brightened the spirits of residents, with visits to the community’s Harbourway assisted living facility, Seaside skilled nursing center, and Marina Bay memory care unit.

When their training is complete, the puppies will be returned to Guiding Eyes For The Blind for finishing training, to teach them specific skills that eventually will make them the perfect companion for a deserving individual. The approximate value of each fully-trained guide dog is $45,000 – –  a cost that is entirely underwritten for each GEB graduate who receives a dog from the program.

A low budget, yet aggressive grassroots P.R. campaign for the program garnered widespread press coverage, including magazine features, front-page newspaper stories, nationwide radio and television features, pups featured as guests on TV talk shows, and exposure to millions on Yahoo!, Reuters.com, and CNBC.com.

Social media took the program global, including a “Day in the Life of Joanie” video, posted on YouTube — chronicling Joanie’s adventures from a puppy’s point of view, featuring a voice-over by one of the schoolchildren. The video went viral, with a still-shot even appearing on the Reuter’s billboard in Times Square. The puppies also co-starred in their own Dog Blog, and had their own fan base on Facebook.

The program has also amassed additional accolades, including the Virginia Beach Public School’s “Partners in Education” award, PBS-TV’s “School Program of the Month,” and finalist in SeniorHomes’ “Best Blog” for the Puppy Love Dog Blog.

According to Atlantic Shores Executive Director Eden Jones, “We were excited to be selected as a finalist in the public relations category last year, and are absolutely thrilled to have been honored with a silver Stevie Award this year. Our residents are creating ongoing legacies of support to not only the community, but also the world. This program was a perfect opportunity to pull together and impact the lives not only of our residents, but also hundreds more globally whose worlds will be touched by these amazing animals.”