Home Impact Programs

Impact Programs

RFI is involved with a variety of partnerships in the surrounding communities which give the organization the opportunity to not only change the life of the client receiving the Service Dog but impact the lives of other community members as well. 

Our Programs


Teacher Elementary

Encouraging elementary children to exceed in academics and focus on learning opportunities can be a challenge often overlooked.

Retrieving Freedom's commitment to partner Service Dogs in training with schools and teachers implements a unique animal-assisted learning experience proving to be industry leading.

Elementary teachers in the Waverly-Shell Rock, Charles City, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Sacred Heart Sedalia school districts are given a dog in training between the ages of 10-18 months of age to take to the classroom between one and five days of the week where they are incorporated into the teacher’s lesson plan. While the dogs work on training and get used to being around lots of people, the students also gain the motivation to read and learn, learn about working with others with disabilities, and achieve skills such as patience, hard work and understanding.


Schools Involved



"I believe I have been able to get more out of students with a dog in the classroom than if I  had not had a dog. The impact these dogs have had their eyes opened to the people these dogs selflessly serve. They have seen/met firsthand the recipients, participated in the graduations, raised money, made cards, and give of themselves. All of these life-changing experiences would not have happened if we had not had RFI in our classrooms/lives."
 Jess Meier - Elementary Teacher

"Both of my kids have absolutely loved having a dog in their classroom. They've been motivated by it. They've learned from it. They talk about the dogs all of the time! What a blessing this program is! Thank you for being an awesome teacher for Madi!"

Parent of Elementary Student

"Kambree loved this opportunity! She was so excited! She talked about it for days. Thank you for taking the kids!"

Parent of Elementary Student


"I would like to express my gratitude toward your organization for meeting with us in August of this year, and helping us to realize the potential that having a service dog in our elementary could have for our student.

During the first semester of this year we have noticed incredible behavioral and educational changes in our student since introducing the stability of having the RFI trained service dog with him during the day. Behavioral incidences have become basically nonexistent, and our teachers have been able to reach educational milestones that a few short months ago we thought would be all but impossible.

We originally had concerns about the rest of the students in the building and their reactions to the service dog, but RFI's educational program for our students has ensured that this is not an issue, and the reality is that this dog has become a part of our family here.

North Butler Community Schools would be proud to work with RFI in assisting to answer any questions that other clients/schools may have in regards to introducing an RFI service dog into their institution, or having them come to visit to see how our staff deal with having the service dog in the building on a daily basis.

North Butler Community Schools would also be willing to cooperate with RFI in any manner that would assist RFI in advancing their mission in doing what is best for children, our veterans, and anyone else who would be in need of your services."

Joel Foster, Superintendent


At Risk Teens

Retrieving Freedom is leading the way in an animal-assisted learning program that builds character and improves communication with at-risk teens. Using RFI Service Dogs in training, we pair them directly with specific at-risk teens. Teens are encouraged to apply for the program through a comprehensive application process that includes an essay on how they want to improve their life. 

  •  Turning frowns upside down!  
  •  Broadening research on the benefits that this program provides on an academic level. 
  •  Countless hours of training to build their communication skills.
  •  Life changing IMPACTS for the teens and future recipients of the dogs!

Retrieving Freedom is proud to partner with Lutheran Services in Iowa for this program, and is committed to the continued development on a National scale.

“When Tatyana came to LSI’s Bremwood Residential Treatment Center in Waverly, she was lonely. She lost her mom at a young age, and her father was incarcerated. She didn’t have anyone to look up to, and the only way she knew how to cope with trauma and anger was by yelling and hitting. When she began seeing her LSI therapist, she wasn’t comfortable talking about her difficult past. Then she met a new friend, Max. Max is a three-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, and a friendly face to everyone he sees on Bremwood’s campus. Tatyana practices calmly giving Max commands like “sit” or “stay,” which is teaching her that her voice is heard without needing to yell. She has started using a calmer voice when she talks to others on campus, and that completes a wonderful circle!

Bremwood Staff


Positive impact of working with service dogs in training on adolescents with severe mental health issues

For five summers, Retrieving Freedom, Inc., has worked with adolescents in Bremwood, Residential Treatment Center, training service dogs in training with verifiable positive results. These adolescents have suffered multiple trauma in their lives and deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), attachment disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and deal with trust and empathy issues. Some are additionally on the Autism Spectrum. They are also identified as at-risk youth.

The adolescents met three times a week. Baseline research showed that the adolescents regularly acted out physically and verbally, had difficulty with respect for authority, and struggled to express their feelings.

Research has demonstrated how the use of dogs in therapy can increase the effectiveness of therapy (Aydin,, 2011). Service dogs can help individuals with the effects of PTSD by lowering stress, improving patience and focus, and decreasing depression (Yount, Olmaert, & Lee, 2012). Grigore and Rusu (2014) showed that working with service dogs increased social interactions and increased appropriate social responses with children.

Example 1: One adolescent argued frequently, threatened harm to others, and frequently walked out of her community. Working with her service dog in training, she was able to identify her “triggers” and to develop coping skills. Her goal was to decrease the incidents of arguing and non-compliance. These incidents occurred 85% of the time at the beginning of summer and decreased to 40% at the end of the summer program.

Example 2: This adolescent struggled with identifying his feelings, displayed a flat affect and poor eye contact. He was easily frustrated and would yell at peers often making threats. Through working with his service dog in training, he was able to identify his feelings and to gain awareness of how his actions affected others. Smiles and positive statements increased while working with his dog.

Bremwood staff reported that adolescents involved in the service dog program, “Safety issues have decreased.” “Started looking at life overall more positively.” “Became more focused and involved in treatment.” “There have been no incidents of self-harm since ..... began the service dog program.” After the program, participants identified their own improvement. “I am communicating a lot more.” “My attitude has improved immensely.” “I’m not that angry much anymore.” “I will be discharged sooner because of this program.”  

Summer Camp Program

Summer camps are an amazing way for kids to get away from their phones and get into nature with new friends for new adventures. Offering this opportunity to children with disabilities can be a challenge. Simple things like walking down a trail in the woods, sleeping in a new bed, eating at a different table, and meeting new friends can be difficult for children with autism.

Retrieving Freedom has partnered with Camp Southern Ground to integrate a fully trained intern paired with a Retrieving Freedom Service dog in training into the summer camp schedule. This team has been specifically designed to assist with tough transition zones between home and camp for children with disabilities. 

As an inclusive camp, we serve children 7-17, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and religions, with programs that challenge, educate, and inspire. We bring together typically developing children, children with autism, and learning and attention issues. We also support children of military families as a vital part of our camper population.

“Retrieving Freedom has been a great partner to our summer camps. The dogs are so well trained and well behaved they simply blend into the fabric of camp. Then, it is uncanny how the dog will often sense a situation when a child on the spectrum might find themselves stuck on an idea or thought, the dog will approach the child and immediately the child connects with the dog, forgetting about whatever they were stuck on and in a minute or two the dog will lead the camper to rejoin their group. It is really a beautiful thing!” 

Mike Dobbs, CEO - Camp Southern Ground

“We are so grateful for our partnership with Retrieving Freedom service dogs on the Camp Southern Ground campus. Together, we provide unmatched experiences for our children and veterans.” 

Camp Southern Ground Board Member – Jonathan White

College Impact

Retrieving Freedom is leading the way in an experiential and service-learning program that allows college students to work directly with RFI service dogs in training. Built to train future service dogs while simultaneously impacting college students on their path into the workforce.

  • 5 years of success
  • Thousands of VOLUNTEER training hours
  • Hands-on learning for students in communication, leadership, and understanding disabilities 
  • Life changing IMPACTS for the students and future recipients of the dogs! 

Retrieving Freedom is proud to partner with Wartburg College and Iowa State University in this program, and is committed to the continued development on a National scale. 

Wartburg College offers a Leadership Theories and Practices course for third and fourth year students that partners with RFI. Students spend half of the course in the classroom learning about leadership and the other half at RFI’s facility. Each student is assigned a dog in full time training to work with throughout the semester. They learn the basics of how RFI trains their dogs and have the opportunity to take their dog out into public to work whenever they please. This allows for students to take what they learn in the classroom about leadership and put it into practice. Working with dogs teaches patience, communication and trust along with other leadership qualities. 


When a rock is dropped in a body of water ripples are created. These ripples continue to enlarge until they reach so far we cannot see them or until they reach the borders of the water. We are the rocks, our community service projects are the action of the rock being dropped into the water, and the amount of people we have touched and inspired to help and spread the word further are the ripples being created.

 [from a peer group essay written for “Leadership Theories & Practices,” May, 2019]


“I am so grateful to have been blessed with the opportunity to learn through working with Top at Retrieving Freedom this past semester and I would not trade my experience there for anything. I have learned and grown so much. It is an amazing non-profit business that changes not only the lives of those who receive the service dogs but those who volunteer there also.”

Mackensie Sauerbrei, Wartburg College graduate

“Working with Retrieving Freedom Inc. while at Wartburg was a truly rewarding experience. I learned about leadership and service in a hands-on way and was part of an amazing organization where I could truly make a difference.”

Molly Schmitt, Wartburg College graduate

“My experience volunteering at Retrieving Freedom this semester has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I truly believe that I took more away from training a service dog for three months than I have from any other class I have ever taken. My favorite aspect of working with Parker has easily been the amount of immediate feedback he has given me. I know right away if what I’m teaching him is good or bad. No other class has offered me this. It allowed me to learn so much faster and adapt to use our time more efficiently.“

Jacob Holub, Wartburg College graduate

“I cannot imagine where I would be in life without having been selected for this opportunity to train and raise such an intelligent and promising puppy as Raymond, all thanks to the efforts of RFI and my professor to set up the program at Iowa State University.” 

Ashlyn Snyder, Iowa State University graduate

“The relationship between Wartburg College and Retrieving Freedom, Inc. highlights Wartburg’s distinctive mission and is emblematic of our commitment to working with community-based organizations to expand and enrich the learning opportunities of our students. The students involved in classes that partner with RFI benefit directly from their learning experiences and the entire campus community is enriched through exposure to the training of service dogs and learning about the vital role they will play in the lives of veterans and children on the autism spectrum. RFI, in turn, benefits from the dedication and skill our students bring to their work training service dogs. It is this sense of reciprocity which makes successful our relationship with RFI and our many other community partners.”

Brian Ernsting, Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty, Wartburg College



“The RFI/Wartburg College collaboration is an outstanding example of the benefits that can accrue to college and community when expanding the learning experience beyond the confines of the campus classroom. The fact that students know their work has real consequences for military veterans and children on the autism spectrum gives them a focus and sense of purpose to their learning; characteristics of service-learning best practices. Beyond that, students are constantly tested on their skills of critical reasoning and many other characteristics essential to their leadership development as civically engaged citizens which will transfer to whatever they happen to do in the future, both professionally and as contributors to their communities.”

Fredric A. Waldstein, Ph.D., Irving R. Burling Chair in Leadership Director, Institute for Leadership Education & Professor of Political, Wartburg College


“I cannot imagine where I would be in life without having been selected for this opportunity to train and raise such an intelligent and promising puppy as Raymond, all thanks to the efforts of RFI and my professor to set up the program at Iowa State University.” 

Ashlyn Snyder, Iowa State University graduate

Prison Impact

Holding individuals responsible for their decisions in life is crucial to the betterment of society. Helping those individuals recover and regain from those decisions is a force multiplier that Retrieving Freedom has implemented in specific prisons across the country. 

The Retrieving Freedom Prison Program impacts inmates and service dogs in training through operant conditioning that turns good behaviors into habits. Retrieving Freedom currently partners within two facilities: Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi and Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville, Iowa. Dogs in training enter the program at 8 weeks old and are assigned a primary and secondary inmate as a handler to work with for approximately one year. The inmates act as fosters for the dog and get the dog ready for full time training. 

"Before visiting IMCC I was very hesitant about going there let alone puppies from our breeding foster dog being trained by the inmates, after meeting the fellas I realized they are no different from me. They have feelings for these puppies and it shows in their training and yes it is hard for them also when the dogs advance in their training process. This is such a win/win program."  

Guy and Karol Carpenter

“When a person learns to give of themselves to help someone else, they become a better person. Many of the men that have raised dogs in this program are not only better inmates, they are much better citizens. They are men that when they leave prison will not be that person who returns again and again.”

Jim McKinney, Warden, IMCC

“RETRIEVING FREEDOM. The most powerful words in my life. Freedom is just what this program gave back to me. I suffer from P.T.S.D., and I also have a fear of being alone. When Retrieving Freedom came to the prison, I couldn’t wait to sign up. I would like to give all the people at Retrieving Freedom a BIG thank you for allowing me to be part of life-changing experience.”

James Stevens, Inmate at IMCC

“My name is James Collins. I am currently an incarcerated individual at IMCC in Coralville Iowa. It was back in April of 2018 when Retrieving Freedom became a very huge life-changing experience. Knowing that I can be a part of saving the life of a veteran or a child is a true honor. I can vouch for this program because it has also saved my life! I suffered from bipolar depression my whole life and since I started working with the RFI team and dogs my life has taken a complete 180-degree turn. It makes me believe I can be a better person. Thus I am so grateful for you RFI!”

James Collins, Inmate at IMCC