A Student Testimonial

A Carolina student’s POV
Note: The opinions presented here are that of the author and not necessarily those of HAPPEE, Inc.

I first learned about Hugs & Pups my second day on campus before the start of my freshman year. This was during a time where I was trying to figure out my place and how I belonged here at UNC. Blue was the dog on site that day when my suitemates and I were walking around campus and getting to know each other. I was anxious that day, but playing with Blue and getting a warm mom hug reassured me that I was in the right place. Since then, I have made the point to visit Hugs & Pups whenever I can while they are on campus. During my freshman year, my classes lined up perfectly so I could pet the dogs before heading to lunch. It is also how one of my close friends and I became closer, because we kept running into each other now. It quickly became our routine to meet up there everyday, to the point where we were the regulars. This is an amazing organization that has given me an outlet to relieve a lot of built up stress. I have loved being able to build relationships with many of the leaders of this group, and we check in with each other all the time. There have even been days where I would sit with them for an hour and talk about everything. Now, I’m beginning my sophomore year at UNC. I am unfortunately unable to see Hugs & Pups as often as I did the past year, but I still get just as excited to see all of the different dogs for the day. I am constantly recommending my friends to go see the dogs when they are on campus, because they can always bring some brightness to our hard days of class. I believe that everyone needs to be able to find relief and happiness during the school day, and I was able to find mine with the Hugs & Pups group.

Submitted by Reagan Gulledge 9/1/2023

Life after a Campus Shooting

A Carolina student’s POV
Note: This post was written following the events at UNC-Chapel Hill on 8/28/2023. The opinions presented here are that of the author and not necessarily those of HAPPEE, Inc.

It would be a lie to say I’m not still in a daze, physically feeling the effects but mentally denying what happened to us on August 28, 2023. The three hours I was in lockdown with my graduate cohort in New West feels as if it was a fever dream, an event I cannot relive without questioning if I was really there. I’m not even sure if I was really present enough at the time to claim that I was there, but the aftermath was enough to assure that I did experience it.

I have heard many horror stories from fellow students about their Monday experience in classes on the following Thursday and Friday. Some were in Caudill [where the shooting occurred] and the Genome [Sciences Building], and I can’t imagine the fear they felt being inside those buildings, hearing the gunshots while being bombarded by professors to finish homework within the next few hours and to zoom into class if they could. That is a type of trauma that is hard for anyone who has not experienced to understand, and it’s a dark realization for all who did have to experience it.

A lack of understanding, however, does not equal a lack of love and support, but for many students, even now, we feel that lack from UNC. The throngs of emails offering CAPS support and emails from professors cannot change what happened, nor can it change the scars college has left on us. Scars can heal, but I want to say that before they do, it’s okay to be angry and upset over the situation.

I am still angry. I am angry at the fact I no longer feel safe on campus, that I feel physically ill every time I get on the bus to get here and every moment I am on campus. I am angry at the media for putting our lives at stake for a story and for portraying our Chinese community as a threat. I am angry at how we were caught in a limbo during the event, unsure of what was going on and who was hurt. I am angry at the people who only care about us when the basketball team is involved, that when one of us has lost all hope and decides that the only way to fix everything is to take another life it doesn’t matter as long as the basketball nets are fine.

Perhaps you feel that anger too. I want to repeat again that it is okay to be mad. Allow yourself to feel it, but don’t let it consume you. Becoming consumed with it won’t help you, though it does surely feel like it. Instead, let your anger exist. Acknowledge it, talk about it, make art about it, write letters and then rip them up, go for runs, hike, play with your pets or try to pet the dogs on campus, listen to music that helps you process it, anything that helps you get it out. Holding it in will always make it worse.

I wish I could offer you better advice. I can sit here and write this and say in the end time will heal all, but it will never remove what happened to us in the end. All I can say is sometimes there will be no sun or moon and you’ll be walking in the dark, but sometimes we’ll also be so illuminated that there is no dark, even when we know it is night. The road ahead may be long, but you won’t travel alone. Even in the darkness, someone will always be there, willing to hold up a light for you to see.

From your fellow UNC student and dog enthusiast,
Victoria Pickle

Source: WRAL News

It’s OK not to be The Best

A Carolina student’s POV
Note: This post was written just before the events of 8/28/2023

 There’s a strong belief circulating among us students at UNC that we have to be the best. The best in our classes, the best in our field of study, the best in speaking a new language, the best in participating in any events that we do, the best in grades and sports and everything else we have our hands in. Many times we feel that if we’re not the best, that we’re not worthy of our achievements. We find second place hard to accept because it means that we weren’t the absolute best. We find that not being first string in the game or first chair in orchestra means our talents are lesser.

Imposter syndrome is a very real thing at our school. I know I feel it every day when I’m on campus. It’s difficult to deal with and to recognize within ourselves. We may think that imposter syndrome isn’t true for us, as our achievements and talents are true at all, and that the reality is that we have not accomplished anything in comparison to our friends or classmates. 

The real reality is that every single one of us has accomplished amazing things in our lives. It’s true the amazing thing may not have been something large and easy for others to see like a reward for your research or an article about you in the Tar Heels paper, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of celebration. The paper that you worked hard on and got a B on is a beautiful win, the drawing you made that told the story of your soul is irreplaceable, the work you put in to be able to call yourself an UNC student and the degree you get at the end of the road can never be taken from you. You are not an imposter. There is no imposter among us; no one needs to be voted out, especially you. You belong here. You are as precious to this earth as a bee is to the flower, as the water is to the fish. You deserve to celebrate yourself and everything you have done. 

I firmly believe that, as cupcake.logic’s dog says in the picture, “No need be best, only good and kind.” At the end of the day, metals will rust and certificates will be lost, but what will never be lost are kind words to a stranger, a good action done to help others. While we should strive to do our best, we don’t have to beat ourselves up for not being the best. We are all born with inherent worth as humans; whether or not you ace that test, graduate in the top 10% your class, or earn the number one spot in your class or sports team, you are still worthy of that boba treat, of that time with your friends, with a life that makes you happy and smile. You are more than your many, amazing accomplishments. You are your favorite music, your beautiful laughter, your smile that brightens someone’s day, and so, so much more.   

Cupcake.logic has given permission for people to print out this piece and hang it wherever they need to. I encourage whoever is reading this to do so as well.

 At the end of the day, no matter how you feel about all of the wonderful things that you have accomplished or how you feel about yourself, remember that as long as you were good and kind, you were the best.

From your fellow UNC student and dog enthusiast,
Victoria Pickle

Art by cupcake.logic on Instagram

Pausing Hugging

We have bad news and better news.
Bad News
HAPPEE’s Infectious Disease consultant Dr. David Wohl and I were finally able to connect in mid-January, after playing contact tag for awhile. He recommended not hugging students until the latest Omicron COVID surge declines. The fact that I am (some might say “annoyingly”) careful and bivalent boosted and, even so, spent over two weeks in bed (but not in the hospital, thanks to the vaccines!) with COVID in January supports the fact that our risk is higher now than it has been at any time in the past. Sigh. Which means that not only are our volunteers at risk of becoming infected but that if we hug while infected without (or before) knowing that we are infected, Huggers especially could easily infect lots and lots of students during a shift. And I would not wish my COVID bedridden weeks on a single college student, much less lots and lots of them.

The leadership team spent the rest of that night discussing, debating, and generally wrestling with what we should do next. We decided to suspend all Hugs and Pups strolls until the pandemic slows down, which is exactly what we had to do in January 2022, due to Delta. One year ago, we had to stay completely off campus (except driving through or when the students had gone home for a break) for two months. It was incredibly frustrating and we really didn’t want to have to do that again.

Better News
So the better news is that we came up with what we think is a good compromise. Our highest risk activity is clearly Hugging. Students expect hugs during our strolls, and many have even begun approaching our teams with arms raised for a hug or asking for a hug before they even acknowledge that there is a dog present. I mean, these kids are Huggers – which ordinarily we love! We simply can’t bear the thought of having to tell them no, HOWEVER, we’ve found that during other events, like stations activities and special events, students get involved in whatever else is going on to the point that they (and often we!) forget about hugs. Unlike last year, thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors (including those who donate from every paycheck through their office charity programs), we are now actually in a financial position that allows us to pivot to weekly special events (vaccinations and KN95 masks still required for volunteers, obviously), each with a dog nearby for some student love. The ones we’ve done in the past have been very labor intensive and expensive (even though the expenses were paid largely by our generous volunteers), which obviously won’t work for weekly activities, but they don’t *have* to require a lot of people or cash.

1st Activity
Our first activity was last Thursday, called “Who Makes You HAPPEE?” A handful of volunteers, including a student, set up two folding tables with pens and notecards and envelopes on each, bought at Scrap Exchange or donated, often in small batches, by our wonderful volunteers. We stocked candy bowls there too, of course, thanks to Halloween leftovers, and Apollo the Poodle was nearby. ❤ Students wrote a short note of appreciation to someone who has made them smile, sealed and addressed the envelope, and left it with us. We stamped (thanks donors!!) and mailed them all. There were over 80 altogether – if we’d had more tables and could have fit more students, there would have been more. As it was, about 10 went to friends or faculty/staff on campus and the rest went through the US Post Office – including one to Canada and three to Italy. Our exchange students were excited to learn that we’d even mail theirs. We were too busy most of the time to take pictures, so we don’t have many, but it was so much fun! The students all thought carefully about who they wanted to write and what they wanted to say and were really happy during the whole experience. Gratitude is a wonderful and powerful emotion. We will definitely do this one again.

2nd Activity
This week’s activity is “Group Dog Walks.” Duke and Willow will be (separately) walking around the Quad(s) on Friday at lunchtime. Hopefully they will have their locations posted on Glympse, but regardless, they won’t be too hard to find. Each dog will have their Mom and a Non-Hugger – Teammate? Companion? Conversation Starter? We haven’t figured out that terminology just yet. Two students will be volunteering as well, and any student who is interested can join in and walk along with them. I’m suddenly picturing Forrest Gump on a jog. Anyway, several students have told us that they’d do like to join us, so hopefully the HAPPEE teams won’t get too lonely. Ideally the walking will be constant, so that it wouldn’t be easily confused with our traditional visits to campus, during which we Hug so many students. We’ll also have our “Hugs & Pups” signs, with “Hugs” temporarily crossed out. Group Dog Walks is targeting our goal of facilitating community building among students, to help them build a support network that is around even when we aren’t. So although the students won’t be able to really play with the dogs during the walk, we are hoping that they will talk to each other more instead. In fact, when I texted one of our student volunteers about this goal, she replied: “I love this philosophy of connecting students together and having more intentional/meaningful events since the usual way is on pause. I really appreciate the effort y’all put into this group. It definitely makes me feel special and loved and, in a way, more at home while away from my family.” So apparently we’re doing something right!

3rd Activity
Next week, weather permitting, we hope to do a rock painting event for students. We’ll provide rocks that already have a base coat of paint (God bless our volunteers!) so that all the students have to do is draw or write on them – we’ll bring lots of paint pens (thanks again donors!). We will learn from the first activity and have more tables and LOTS of rocks available. The students we’ve talked about it are already super excited about it. Hopefully whichever dog gets signed up for this one won’t end up multi-colored, but you never know. If they do, believe me, you’ll see pictures later!

We are still brainstorming Special Events ideas and of course we are watching the pandemic closely, ready and waiting to resume our regularly-scheduled activities including Hugs whenever it is safer. In the meantime, the students have made it clear that they miss having us on campus four times a week but appreciate our concern for their health and are happy that we are still coming to support them as much as we can. We too are truly grateful that we are able to continue loving on the students in different, safer ways. That ability is all thanks to those who have supported us financially as well as those who are so generous with their time and love. In other words, y’all make us HAPPEE!
Cathy Emrick

UPDATE: After nearly a month-long pause on Hugging, we were thrilled to be able to return to our regularly scheduled Hugs and Pups strolls.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are grateful for YOU!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our HAPPEE friends. We are so grateful that you decided to join us in this endeavor to create a place for students to come and feel cared for and safe.

Some students have gone from barely a fist bump to reaching out for hugs immediately upon arrival. Some hang out with us the entire time we are there, and it’s not because we are *that* cool. They feel loved and safe. One was afraid of dogs, but after visiting with us a while, declared he was no longer scared and patted the dog. Many cry on our shoulders because the world is demanding so much from them and it’s just plain hard.

I love to see them bouncing around with our HAPPEE mascot keychains (a brilliant idea from Michelle Young), thinking how cool it is that they can just enjoy being the young people that they are and pat a dog while their cares melt away. They go crazy over candy and stickers because they feel free to just embrace life and fun and whatever we have to offer them.

So whether you go regularly to Hug or Pup, have donated money or leftover Halloween candy (which is going fast!), or are “just” cheering us on from afar, know that we appreciate each and every one of you for your contributions. Thank you for being accepting, embracing, giving, and willing to help these college students feel a little safer in this big world.
Noel-Beth Sipe

Community Building

Hey, don’t you live in my dorm?”
The students and we have all settled into the semester. We were on campus 6-7 days each week for the first six weeks or so after the students’ return. We have now transitioned into our semester-long schedule of being on campus Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. When we are on campus for a stroll, one team is always at “Blue’s Corner”, which is between Wilson Library and the Undergraduate Library. Positioned between the Pit and the Lower Quad (Polk Place), hundreds of students pass us there between classes and have gotten used to stopping. We are seeing more repeat visitors already than we saw all last year, and we love it! A few of them will even plop down next to us, pull out their laptops, and work on their homework while they chat with us and other students who stop by, but lots stay for quite awhile, whether or not they are actively petting the dog. We’ve frequently seen reunions of old friends, introductions to new friends, classmates meeting outside the classroom for the first time, etc. One of our primary goals this semester is to facilitate community-building among students and it turns out that planting a team in one place has provided an unexpected boost toward that goal. Stay tuned for news on our next step toward that goal: creating a HAPPEE Discord server…
Cathy Emrick

Busy first weeks on campus

So many students, so many dogs, so many hugs!
You may have noticed that this website hasn’t been updated since just before the fall semester began. That’s because there has been at least one Hugs & Pups team on UNC-CH’s campus almost every day since the dorms opened, most of them with at least one brand-new volunteer. In fact, all of those new volunteers are what’s made it possible for us to be there every day. As a result, thousands and thousands of students have played with our pups – we have SO many wonderful pictures, far too many to post, unfortunately – and many of those students have needed a hug as well. Transitioning into campus life is a challenge, and a little extra support goes a long way toward making it easier. We’ve talked to lots of students who have scheduled their whole days around coming by “Blue’s Corner” (the front corner of Wilson Library closest to the Pit) as many times as they can while we are there. We’ve heard that we helped them get through that first, really lonely week. One told me the other day that we are what got them through a particularly difficult FDOC. We’ve heard about beloved pets back home and seen pics of them too (they’re all *really* cute!!). And I can’t even count how many parents have gotten texts with pictures of our pups. It’s also not uncommon to have a student come by, wait in line if they have to until they reach the Hugger, ask for a hug, and then leave without even petting the team’s pup. There have been some tears (which is fine – those students just got extra-long hugs), but far more laughter and smiles. And we’ve gotten to know and love quite a few of the students who are “regular customers” already.

Hopefully the semester will get easier for Carolina students with a little more time. But don’t worry – we’ll be there for them either way.
Cathy Emrick

Who’s coming to campus?

So Many New Dogs!
In the waning days of summer, students may have mixed feelings about leaving their carefree life at home and coming back to campus, their college friends, and classes (including early morning ones – ugh!). Our HAPPEE volunteers, however, are unequivocally excited. We can’t WAIT to have “our” students back! We’ll miss our seniors who have graduated and moved on but are eager to meet the incoming class of freshmen and new transfers and also see our friends from last year. Over the summer, a bunch of new doggos have signed up as HAPPEE pups – they are *adorable* and the students are going to LOVE them! Plus all of our sweet dogs from last year are back as well. Here are pictures of some who signed up just in the past week, as a sneak peek. We’ll see y’all soon!
-Cathy Emrick

What do UNC students have to say about Hugs & Pups?

How much do they love our dogs?
From the first time we set foot on campus with a dog, hoping to bring a little emotional support to a reeling community, it was obvious to us that a dog and a hug really could have a substantial, if temporary, impact on student mental health. It almost seemed too good to be true to think that we, who had been grieving with them from a distance, could actually, finally, DO something to help! We have since heard a few students say that when people are at their lowest, sometimes just helping them get through that day is enough for now. Tomorrow might be a little bit better, a little bit easier. Obviously just getting through one day doesn’t solve all of a severely depressed person’s problems, but sometimes it’s a victory just to still be here tomorrow to try again.

We just added a new page to our website named “Student Voices.” We invite you to check it out to hear and see for yourself what Carolina students are saying about us. Here’s fair warning, though: so far, those of us who have read the feature-length article there have all mysteriously ended up with something in our eye.
-Cathy Emrick

A screenshot of a FB post to the UNC Chapel Hill - Parents group. The person's name is blacked out, but the post reads "To the parents on campus today giving hugs... thank you. My daughter has been having a very rough semester, and got a hug today. She said she immediately started bawling. She said it felt like one of my hugs (which means a lot) the lady told her she was a mom too that's why it felt like mine. We are both so anxious for her to visit this week - thank ou for taking the time to bring some brightness to her day. Happy Thanksgiving and thank you so vey much"

Exciting Paperwork?

I never thought I’d get excited about paperwork!
HAPPEE is now in our first full fiscal year (July 1-June 30) of being an official non-profit organization! Our first Board of Directors meeting of the year was last week and we are starting our year off with, what else… paperwork. But that’s OK, because it’s the good kind. The kind of paperwork it takes to be as efficient we can be so as to offer hugs and pup playtime to as many UNC-Chapel Hill students as possible in the upcoming school year. The kind of written planning that will allow us to expand our activities to meet more needs of our beloved students. And the kind of financial documentation that will ensure that the funds that our supporters entrust us with will be used responsibly, deliberately, and wisely, with proper oversight and a “paper” trail. Yup, we are making sure that we are starting our first year as an organized organization so that we can really focus on the important stuff: hugs and pups and such. So I say, sincerely, “Yay, paperwork!”
-Cathy Emrick

Oscar Mayer, a black lab / basset hound mix is at home, lying doown with a toy bone clutched between his front paws. He is looking up at the camera.
Oscar Mayer will never be excited by paperwork