Rachel Cohen, age 20, isn’t your typical college student. As a Penn student, she juggles undergraduate and law school classes, while simultaneously overseeing a citywide organization called Hand2Paw that serves homeless youth and shelter animals.
Rachel’s vision leading up to the creation of Hand2Paw grew from interactions with a group of homeless teens that would huddle under the Grays Ferry Bridge in Philadelphia, holding their pit bulls for warmth. Rachel befriended them and learned that the teens loved their dogs so much that they were unwilling to abandon them in order to enter shelters, even in the frigid winter. This unconditional love between the youth and their dogs inspired Rachel to create Hand2Paw, an organization that empowers homeless teens to volunteer in local animal shelters.
Rachel now oversees the entire Hand2Paw Foundation, which has two separate branches in Philadelphia. Homeless teens are empowered to volunteer in area animal shelters, where they learn professional skills, enjoy therapeutic experiences, and find positive role models. Especially motivated youth can earn paid internships, in which they have the opportunity to gain the skills they will need to pursue real jobs in animal care. The homeless animals receive extra training, grooming, and socialization, which makes it easier for them to find adoptive homes. Hand2Paw also seeks to reduce systemic animal abuse and violence in the community by empowering at-risk youth to treat all living creatures, including animals, with kindness instead of brutality.
Hand2Paw’s success has not gone unnoticed. Rachel has been featured on NBC, as well as in the Examiner, HerCampus, Chutzpah Magazine, Dogster, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and more. Rachel also recently beat out hundreds of other students nationwide and took the top prize in the National Students in Service Awards, sponsored by Washington Campus Compact. To learn more about Hand2Paw, visit www.hand2paw.org
What are you working on right now?
I am planning our summer expansion, drafting a fundraising kit, and trying to get my chemistry homework done.
What does your typical day look like?
7 am wakeup, check and answer Hand2Paw emails, get a bit of studying in, and go to class. In the afternoons, I network, usually by internet and phone. The media frenzy has been pretty intense lately. I usually talk to between one and two journalists each day. I also check in on Hand2Paw interns by calling their supervisors, and confirm with participants and organizations for upcoming sessions. I eat when I can, and always aim for 8-9 hours of sleep per night. I’m a freshman RA, so that can be a little hard, but I am grateful for earplugs.
3 trends that excite you?
- A greater awareness about issues relating to pitbulls and dogfighting.
- Initiatives that make veterinary care accessible to low-income pet owners.
- Synergistic programs that help humans and animals simultaneously.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I write down everything I need to do, number it in order, and roll full steam ahead. I’m meticulous about details and extremely persistent.
What inspires you?
The youth and dogs in my program, all of whom have endured countless hardships, and still seize any opportunity to shine.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
At first, I didn’t recognize the potential that Hand2Paw had in terms of its ability to grow so quickly. I should have sought out business advice sooner and constructed a strategic plan from the start.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Pursue mutually beneficial ideas.
What do you read every day, and why?
I read the New York Times every single day, but lately I have inhaling doctor blogs written by residents, interns, and attending physicians. I find some of them to be so incredibly thoughtful. I am amazed that despite their busy doctor lives, they are able to reflect about their jobs in such profound ways. I often ponder certain entries for days afterward.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of The Company That is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick
You’ll never look at a 20 year old the same again.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Carrie Ruddell Maria, founder of The Monster Milers, an innovative nonprofit that pairs shelter dogs with area runners for personal safety and fun. She’s also the owner of the Monster Minders, Philadelphia’s best and most progressive pet sitting business.
Lizzie Penna, age 10, founder of Peace for Puppies, a nonprofit that inspires kids to make a difference for abused and homeless animals.
Christopher Decker, creator of Get Socialnomical, a social media blog that seeks to enhance the utilization of social media platforms by encouraging responsible, professional networking and prudent methods of social outreach.
What does the future hold for Rachel Cohen?
I know that Hand2Paw has huge potential, so I will work to ensure that it is scaled efficiently and sustainably over the next few years. Long term, I am considering going into medicine, but I am entertaining other ideas as well. One thing is for sure, however. No matter what my career, I will work diligently to further large-scale systemic changes on behalf of humans and animals.
How can members of our community further Hand2Paw’s mission?
Hand2Paw relies on supporters to continue our work. Donations are vital to the continuation and expansion of our program. They cover supplies and services that our program desperately needs, including dog treats, scrubs, and skilled dog trainers who teach our youth real skills. To donate, please visit:http://www.hand2paw.org/H2P/Donate.html
If you are interested in replicating Hand2Paw in your hometown, we want to hear from you. Check out to learn how to bring Hand2Paw to your town and contact us with any questions!
The Hand2Paw Foundation on Facebook – www.facebook.com/hand2pawFB
The Hand2Paw Foundation on Twitter – www.twitter.com/hand2paworg
The Hand2Paw Foundation on Vimeo – www.vimeo.com/Hand2Paw