Ella Alberts has loved dogs since she could remember. That’s how the 5’4” girl ended up standing next to the 6’4” swimmer who has won more Olympic medals than any athlete.
Ella’s helpless at the sight of round puppy eyes, floppy ears, and wiggly tails. Squeal! The pitter-patter of tiny puppy paws wins her over—every time. In fact, they are the inspiration of her volunteer work.
The 12-year-old Westside Middle School student has dedicated the better part of her young life to raise money to help animals at local shelters.
Ella’s big heart for small animals became evident when she was a tot, and the thought of a homeless animal tugs at Ella’s heartstrings.
“She’s not allowed to go into the Humane Society alone because she leaves crying,” Mary says.
Ella, an only child, has three dachshund siblings at home: George, Dodge, and Dolly. Quite active little pups. Mary and husband Ron Alberts say there’s never a dull moment in the family’s home.
The Alberts have fostered animals on-again, off-again throughout the years, but exclusively began serving as a foster family for dogs in 2013. That’s when the Alberts visited a local animal shelter where Ella found a small, aging dachshund named Paris with no eyes, no teeth, and a tumor.
“I just have to take her home to love her,” Ella told her mother, who explained that the animal may not live long.
Caring for terminally ill dogs is not about wishing the pets back to better health, but more about finding a place for them to comfortably live out the last days of their lives.
Then, it happened. One of the foster pets didn’t make it. Ella was heartbroken.
“She was in the room as it drifted off,” Mom recalls. “Ella was very comforting and calm. You don’t want them to pass in the shelter after many of them have lived neglected lives. This dog in particular was in a puppy mill her whole life and then went to the shelter…poor thing.”
The experience moved Ella to help others. She was 8 when she came up with the idea to host a lemonade stand. Sales increased once word got out that she was raising funds to help homeless animals. Ella’s one-day lemonade stand is a now-annual fundraiser for Hearts United for Animals.
The first year, Ella raised $600. Now, four years later, she’s since raised more than $1,300 and given countless shelter supplies such as dog food, beds, laundry detergent, and other puppy goods. Ella is pleased that the money raised pays for surgeries for needy dogs.
Ella’s love for dogs, and unwavering dedication to service earned her a special recognition. She was named the Nebraska recipient of the 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Award.
The national award program recognizes exemplary middle and high school students. Two students from each state and Washington, D.C., are chosen based on volunteer efforts.
The honorees received $1,000 and an engraved silver medal, which was presented by Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps.
Needless to say, the trip was life-changing for Ella. While in D.C. the Alberts visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which touched Ella deeply. She has since read several books about those who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War.
Ella kept busy with dance lessons and track this summer, along with her continued effort in promoting her lemonade stand, collecting donations, and fostering dogs.
“Isn’t that wonderful,” says Carol Wheeler, founder of Hearts United for Animals shelter. “Ella has done the lemonade stand for several years. It’s simply charming.”
The 65-acre no-kill shelter just an hour outside of Omaha is grateful to see such a young, dedicated person believe in its mission of rehabilitating animals medically and socially.
“I think she is exceptional for having done this for many years,” Wheeler said. “We do see young people who have their birthday parties and they have guests bring gifts for the dogs instead of them.”
Ella’s dedication is striking, says Wheeler.
“She’s exceptional because she’s dedicated herself…not just one year or one event, but continues to give. It’s very touching to receive her gifts.”
This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.