organization. Melissa is married with one rescue dog and three rescue cats. A lifelong Jacksonville resident, she enjoys running, rock climbing, reading and spending time with her family.
Executive Director and Co-Founder
KCJ is working on her Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Louisville, where she recently got a teacher's assistant position. After graduating from the University of North Florida, KCJ worked with biomedical autism pediatrician Dr. Julie Buckley as a homeschool proctor, service dog trainer and autism life skills coach to her daughter Dani and Dani’s service dog Flux. While working in this unique environment KCJ integrated her knowledge of autism's behavioral presentation and medical possibilities. This combination of knowledge gives KCJ a unique understanding of how a service dog in concert with medications can have a profoundly positive effect on a child and his or her family.
President and Founder, BJ Szwedzinski
During her tenure as a special needs teacher, BJ brought her dog into the classroom and noticed the peace that permeated the environment. Having made that observation, she had the idea of pairing children and dogs to affect positive behavioral change. Combining her teaching and more than 30 years of professional dog training, BJ developed and launched Project Chance in 2008.
Although she earned a degree in hospitality management, BJ went to grooming school and then worked with a trainer who showed dogs. She discovered her passion. In 1976, BJ founded Dog Leg Productions, a boarding, training and boot camp program for dogs.
Additionally, she worked with dogs as an administrator for animal control and humane societies and then developed education programs. In schools, BJ taught kids about pet ownership and responsibilities. Having raised two daughters with mental health disorders, BJ has first-hand knowledge of the challenges parents face and the strategies she used with positive outcomes.
BJ is committed to making a difference in the lives of kids with disabilities by integrating golden retriever service dogs. An advocate for service dogs and families, BJ works with local and regional non-profit agencies focusing on accessibility to resources and community integration for service dogs and kids with autism.
From the president:
Eleanor Blanchard's Legacy
When Eleanor Blanchard established the Blanchard Family Endowment Fund as a designated endowment, her wish was to help families dealing with autism issues. Working with her family attorney, Jean C. Coker, PA, and Merrill Lynch’s Bill Merriam, they explored the HEAL (Helping Every Autistic Life) Foundation as a possible beneficiary.
According to her daughter Missy Pierce, Eleanor heard about special service dogs trained to help children with autism. “My dad was a huge animal lover, and my mom thought this would be perfect,” remembers Missy. “This would be a great reflection of both their desire to help people in need and animals.”
Nancy Hickman is a native of Murray, Kentucky. She graduated with a BS from Murray State University in 1967. Working with the Girl Scouts of Shagbark Council in Southern Illinois for her entire 33-year career, the last 18 of which were as the executive director, Nancy retired on December 31, 1999. Nancy earned a certification in Nonprofit Management from the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations from Case Western Reserve University. She joined Project Chance as a volunteer in 2007. Apple is one of the Poe Puppies and lives with Nancy in Fernandina Beach.
Currently working as an event planner, Melissa is also completing her Masters in Nonprofit Management. Ideally, she wants to combine event planning and her commitment to volunteerism. Having seen firsthand how a Project Chance service dog, Shiloh, helped her nephew, William grow and mature and changed her family’s lives, she became involved and joined the board. She knows what a service dog can do for children on the spectrum and believes in Project Chance and its mission. She wholeheartedly wants to aid in growing and sustaining this amazing
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It is not our intent to make a big difference, just a difference,
It is not our intent to make all problems go away, just easier,
It is not our intent to fix all wrongs, just to make some right,
It is not our intent to be overzealous with our mission, just excited,
It is not our intent to reveal people’s prejudices, just teach open-mindedness,
It is not our intent to know all the answers, just ask the right questions,
It is our intent to educate.
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Project Chance 95512 Arbor Lane, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034 - (904) 491-0414 - email@example.com
A geologist, writer, and financial analyst for Banyan Hill Publishing, Matt has a deep appreciation of service. Over the years, he’s donated time and money to various philanthropies, primarily focusing on abandoned pets. Matt and his family fostered animals for the Nassau County Animal Control and the SPCA through Cat’s Angels. When the family adopted a new dog, they worked with BJ to ensure their dog was a good citizen. Project Chance allows Matt to combine his interests in dogs and commitment to volunteerism that serves as an example for his children. Matt hopes his experience in writing, business management, and finance will help Project Chance grow and develop into its next phase.
Susan Sinor, Business Manager
Before retiring, Sue worked in the defense industry for almost 30 years. Her experience included both engineering tasks and program management. She was also a high school teacher for 14 years. She is a volunteer and a member of the Board of Directors for Project Chance. Sue writes books about the ‘red vest service dogs’ to help families better understand and enjoy their new four-legged family member. She and her husband, Buddy, live in Fernandina Beach, Florida, with their dog, two cats, and a variety of rotating Project Chance puppies.