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The James E. Riley Fund Hosts Annual Golf Outing for Emotional Support Animal Program

Ryan Miller, Kyla Miller, Erika (Veteran), Ashley Miller, Sheila Riley, Avery Miller, Adam Miller, Paige Miller, Nicole Ransberger, Riley (ESA Dog), Juliet (Riley Family Dog)

Over Memorial Day weekend, the James E. Riley Fund at the Sturgis Area Community Foundation collaborated with the Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Dog Program from the St. Joseph County Office of Veterans Affairs for its 2nd annual golf outing at Klinger Lake Country Club. The proceeds were all for the St. Joe County ESA program, assisting veterans who have suffered trauma from their time serving our country. The Riley Family coordinates this event each year in memory of James E. Riley who was, not only a veteran, but also an individual who had a love for dogs and golf.

Veterans & Staff of the St. Joe County ESA Dog Program

About the Emotional Support Animal Dog Program

The ESA Dog program was established with a singular focus on improving veteran health and well-being, but it soon evolved into something much more significant. Through the program, participants are now not only able to lead happier, healthier lives, but their entire families are also benefiting from the positive impact of these support animals. The program's success lies in its comprehensive approach; each veteran goes through a vetting process to ensure the best possible match, and once they are paired with a dog, the program continues to work with them to ensure the relationship is making the most significant impact possible. By doing so, the St. Joe County ESA program sees a reduction in medication requirements, continued education plans, and even family reunions as a result. It's more than just a rescue program for veterans; it's a step towards a renewed and fulfilled life for them, their families, and even their furry family members!

Nicole Ernsberger (ESA Dog Trainer), Erika (US Veteran), and Riley (ESA Dog)

Pawsitively K9's Nicole Ernsberger was selected to be the official dog trainer for the program in 2020. Her role is to train and place dogs with Veterans in need of assistance. The program's most recent success is Riley, one of the graduates of the ESA program, who has found her forever home with US Veteran, Erika. The James E. Riley Fund played a significant role in preparing Riley for the transition to becoming an Emotional Support Dog, highlighting the importance of funding in enabling dogs to get the necessary training and care. With the dedication of expert trainers like Nicole, these dogs get the skills they need to serve the Veterans who depend on them. Nicole shared her first-hand experience working within the program:

“These dogs are truly saving veterans lives through their loyalty, companionship and sociability. They connect eagerly with their veterans, always happy to see them and provide a great ice breaker for social situations that the veteran may not have put him/herself in. It’s a beautiful witnessing each veteran improve their lives by having a dog in it.”

The St. Joe County Office of Veterans Affairs continues to make a dramatic difference in the lives of veterans who are experiencing trauma from their time serving our country. Events such as this annual golf outing bring much-needed awareness and funding to an essential program designed to not only restore life for these veterans, but also help them lead emotionally healthier lives with their new companions by their side. If you would like to help, please consider donating to the James E. Riley Fund at the Sturgis Area Community Foundation; there's no greater honor than taking care of those who have already taken care of us!

Click HERE to donate to the Fund!

When prompted, enter the James E. Riley Fund to direct your gift.

To learn more, check out the links below:

The Sturgis Area Community Foundation is a $30M foundation committed to serving the charitable needs of our community and enriching the quality of life for all people in the Sturgis area. Through philanthropic services, strategic investments, and community leadership, Sturgis Area Community Foundation helps people support the causes they care about now and for generations.

For more information on grants or donor services, email

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