COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - From schools, to nursing and hospice homes, one Lexington County couple is using their retirement years to give back with the help of their four-legged friends.
Carolina Springs Elementary students Cody, Colin and James Noah get to spend time with Anna Marie and Kenneth Christley once a week, and because of it, reading has become one of their favorite things.
"We couldn't have gotten where we are now without them," said Colin Fink, who's in the second grade at Carolina Springs.
Colin said he loves spending time with the Christleys and especially loves their therapy dog, Tilly.
"I think she is really loving and really helps us focus on more than just the book," added Colin about the Labrodoodle.
The students get to read to Tilly once a week as part of a reading program that started at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year.
"This was our goal for them," said Edie Burritt, a school counselor at Carolina Springs. "To give them a place and a time during their school day where going to read was something they could be excited about."
The Christleys have helped make that possible.
"Instead of them focusing so much on struggling to read, they're focusing on doing something for the dog and enjoying it," said Anna Marie.
The Christleys got Tilly not long after Anna Marie retired. For the last few years, Tilly and their other therapy dog, Teddy, have spent their days visiting elementary and middle schools, nursing homes and hospice homes all to make a difference.
"It's seeing people's responses. It's seeing improvement, hopefully," said Anna Marie. "If we can make a difference with one person, then we've done something."
And for all they have done, their daughter nominated them as a WIS and Mungo Homes Community Builder.
"They are both just wonderful role models, and they're an inspiration to me and my brother to do more," said the Christley's daughter Kim Theuerl.
So we briefly interrupted their reading session to surprise them with the news.
"Guys don't let the hard hats scare you, I'm not here to put anyone to work," said Andy Evans with Mungo Homes. "I'm here to congratulate you that you're the latest winners of our Community Builder Award. I think I speak for the Community when I say great job."
As Community Builders the Christleys will receive a $1,000 donation to the charity of their choice from the Michael J. Mungo Foundation.
They say it will go to the Alzheimer's Association, one of the many organizations the couple supports with the help of their therapy dogs.