Summer resident Stephanie Cooper Greenberg is a woman of great passion. When she sets out to do something, her focus is absolute and unwavering. Whether training for triathlons, flying through the sky as a pilot, or fundraising for cutting-edge medical research, her commitment is full on. So when Greenberg set out to improve the lives of local children seven years ago with her READ program, there were no limits to where she might take it.
READ, which stands for Reading Education Assistance Dog, encourages children of varying abilities to read to a therapy dog. “It’s something else,” Greenberg says of witnessing the bond between the child and the canine. “You can feel the joy and love. And the silliness of it matters. Parents disappear; specialists disappear. It’s just the pure joy of reading with an extra benefit of a dog in your lap as part of the journey.” So instead of a scolding teacher or a demanding parent looking over their shoulders, kids have a warm-eyed dog listening to them read without judgment.
Greenberg has seen “enormous improvement” in children’s abilities as the result of working with therapy dogs, and she’s currently working on a first-of-its-kind study at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore that’s measuring the reading, language skills and sociability of children with autism working with therapy dogs over time. “The study has implications for the greater public,” she explains. “If the results are positive, then a general recommendation can be made to encourage schools across the country to look into the beneficial use of therapy dogs in school settings for children with autism to overcome reading deficits.” The study will begin this fall.
Up until recently, when Greenberg left Nantucket every fall, the READ program went with her. Now there are other year-round certified therapy dogs on the island. Over the winter, Greenberg became a certified Pet Partner Evaluator so that local dog-owners who want to certify their dogs won’t have to leave Nantucket to do so. “Our program has expanded,” she says. “We now have a reading program at the Boys and Girls Club on Saturdays, along with visits to the Cyrus Pierce Elementary School during the school year.”
With the help of her colleagues Cindy Squire, Joyce Jaskula and Jean Macler, therapy dogs also make the rounds at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Greenberg says the reaction from patients when they see her dogs is powerful. “It’s like being Beyoncé,” she jokes of the attention they get. There are 45,000 therapy dogs working across the country, and Greenberg hopes that more therapy dog teams will be able to serve the Nantucket community, including people who have experienced domestic violence, the elderly, and library and school programs.
Beyond her READ program, Greenberg is also a licensed pilot and an air- plane owner. For the last six years she has volunteered as part of the Veteran Airlift Command, which links pilots with gravely wounded veterans to get them from point A to point B without having to use commercial airlines. She and her husband, Erwin, also a pilot, have done over a dozen missions, most recently flying a female wounded warrior, who served as a medic in Afghanistan, from Walter Reed to Savannah, Georgia to reunite her with her teammates. The couple then flew the veteran back to Walter Reed for her next procedure. “The way we see it, transportation should be the least of their challenges as they recover from their injuries. And we feel so blessed to be able to offer a ride,” she says.
Here on Nantucket, Greenberg worked to connect the Veteran Airlift Command with the Holiday for Heroes program, which brings wounded warriors to the island for a much-deserved vacation. She was able to get Veteran Airlift Command to help with transportation for soldiers near and far to get to Nantucket. “The story transcends what Erwin and I do,” says Green- berg, “but there’s a war going on and there are wounded people who need to be recognized.”
Greenberg, who has a home in Shimmo, calls herself a “Nantucketer by marriage,” and started coming to the island over twenty years ago. When her husband, Erwin, was learning to fly, he needed a place to fly into. “He flew to Nantucket one day for training, and the rest is history,” she says. Now as this driven woman turns the page to yet another summer on Nantucket, the future is looking promising for the community she serves so doggedly.