LOWER MAKEFIELD >> A Lower Makefield boy will celebrate his 13th birthday by throwing a “pawty” for a special group of four-legged friends.
On Saturday, April 17th Nicky Christopher, with the help of family and friends, will hold a drive-thru fundraiser in support of Alpha Bravo Canine.
This is the second contactless fundraiser Nicky has organized for Alpha Bravo. Last fall he held a hugely successful drive-thru fundraiser at the Lower Makefield Pool parking lot for Alpha Bravo and Four the Paws.
This time, Nicky has chosen to direct all the funds exclusively to Alpha Bravo, a nonprofit that raises, trains and then donates service dogs to U.S military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and other combat-related disabilities.
“Research shows that 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America due to PTSD and combat-related disabilities. There’s therapy and medication, but sometimes that’s not enough for some veterans,” said Yardley resident Tracy Ruepp, the puppy raising coordinator for Alpha Bravo. “So We’re trying to bridge that gap by giving them more of a normal life. We can’t cure PTSD, but we can help veterans lead a more normal life.”
According to Ruepp, the dogs are trained to pickup on the veteran’s anxiety and to monitor their breathing patterns. “We also train the dogs to anticipate an anxiety attack coming on by recognizing the signs,” she said. “Some may take a deep sigh. Others may start shaking their legs or others may begin chewing their nails. Our dogs are trained to respond. They put their head on the veteran’s lap and redirect the veteran’s attention or they can do a full body pressure. And our veterans have told us that it has made all the difference in the world to them. They can actually go outside again and lead a normal life.”
But it’s not an inexpensive proposition. It can cost Alpha Bravo upwards of $30,000 to train a single dog for service. The dogs - all chocolate Labrador Retrievers - currently undergo training at a site in Wrightstown Township while they stay with temporary puppy-raising families until the day they join a veteran.
“It’s not just about dogs. They are helping local veterans,” said Nicky. “That’s important to me because the veterans fought for our country and we need to do what we can to support them.”
The contactless drop-off collection event and fundraiser will take place between 12 and 3 p.m. in the parking lot of the Lower Makefield Pool on Edgewood Road.
There will be raffles, prize giveaways, individually-wrapped treats for animals and people, balloon animals and a chance to meet Alpha Bravo’s three newest service dogs - Tristan, Lando and Blake - each named after a fallen hero.
Helping Nicky out at the event will be Ben Ruepp (Pennwood Middle School), Julie Stockton, Adam Christopher, Tommy Cridland, Joy and Ryann Moran (Pennsbury High School) and Lucia Betman (Quarry Hill Elementary).
“We’re still going to be wearing our masks. We’re still going to social distance and make everyone safe,” said Nicky’s mom, Sara.
“Pawty goers” will have the option of driving through the parking lot and dropping off their cash, checks or credit card donations to one of Nicky’s helpers. Or they can chose to park and walk over to experience a special puppy “kissing” booth that will be set up at the site as an additional fundraiser.
“People can give a donation and have a smooch with a pup,” says Ruepp. “We will have a little booth like you see at fairgrounds. The dogs will be there and people can come up to the booth and hug and kiss them.
“It will be nice for the community to come out and see the dogs and learn what Alpha Bravo is all about,” said Ruepp, adding that they will also be taking applications from veterans and for puppy-raisers.
Checks should be made payable to Alpha Bravo Canine. Checks may also be mailed directly to Alpha Bravo Canine at P.O Box 16030, Philadelphia 19114 or to 1488 Merrick Rd. , Yardley 19067. Donations can also be made through Venmo @birthdaylawnbandit.
The public also is encouraged to donate items needed for the puppies from ABC’s amazon wishlist https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1IQJO47CEJU6A
“You don’t even have to donate,” said Nicky’s mom, Sara Christopher. “You can just come by, get a balloon animal, meet Nicky, learn all about Alpha Bravo and enjoy the activities. It’s a big area so there’s plenty of room to socially distance.”
The event will coincide with Nicky’s 13th birthday and the funds raised will be his gift to Alpha Bravo Canine.
“Bring your friends out. Support Alpha Bravo Canine. And see some puppies,” says Nicky, who encourages everyone to come out and support the event. “It’s going to make you feel good to do good.”
Hearing Nicky’s words warms the heart of Ruepp and all the volunteers at Alpha Bravo Canine.
“We are so grateful to Nicky and Sara for doing this for us. For them to help us out in this way, to be behind our organization and what we stand for, to help the veteran community, it means a lot.”
Dogs already hold a special place in the Christopher family. They have three dogs of their own - Franky, Teddy and Jubilee. All three are Shih Tzus that bring constant love, joy and support to the family.
“One of the reasons why this is an important event is because last year due to COVID a lot of the fundraising done by Alpha Bravo Canine was put on hold,” said Sara. “They haven’t been able to raise as much money as they have in the past. To bridge some of that we thought this would be a great time to get involved and do this. We’re hoping to raise $10,000 at this event.”
Nicky and his family would also like to find someone out in the community who may have connections or a place for Alpha Bravo Canine to locate its low impact training facility.
They are looking for a 5,000 square foot space preferably in the Yardley area to call home.
“They can’t spend a ton of money on rent, so it would be nice to find someone who is willing to work with them to find a good spot in Yardley,” said Sara. “Maybe someone out there has a connection and could help.”
Many in Lower Makefield may know Nicky as the neighborhood Birthday Lawn Bandit.
For the past 11 months, Nicky has been surprising the young and old with birthday, anniversary and new pet lawn raids, complete with balloons, signs, chalk art and messages.
“It all started out with the quarantine and the fact that kids couldn’t celebrate birthdays. The idea was we could come in and spread some cheer throughout the community,” said Nicky’s mom.
“The idea is he’s a bandit, but instead of taking things he’s giving things. He comes in and ‘raids’ the lawn with messages like ‘Honk, it’s my birthday.’ He also makes birthday candles out of pool noodles. He literally decorates the whole lawn,” she said.
In exchange, he asks for a donation to cover his costs and to support his charities, including Alpha Bravo Canine, Four the Paws and RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Nicky said he hasn’t yet had a request for pink flamingos, but he did decorate one neighbor’s lawn with pictures of Sloths.
“We try to make it special,” said Nicky. “If they like soccer we put soccer balls out. If they like dinosaurs we’ll put pictures out showing dinosaurs,” he said.
One time he nearly got caught, said his mom.
While Nicky was decorating a lawn late at night, the birthday boy and his brother unexpectedly came outside. Nikky and his mom quickly ducked behind a car and laid in the grass while they walked around the decorated yard. Lucky for Nicky he and his mom escaped undetected.
Nicky also conducted a raid on the lawn at the Family Service Association’s Homeless Shelter in Levittown, surprising all the children there.
After his work was featured on Action News, US Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick presented Nicky with a flag flown over the US Capitol and recognized Nicky on the floor of the House of Representatives and read his name into the Congressional Record.
Since he started his lawn bandit activities a year ago in May, Nicky has decorated more than 300 lawns, according to his mom.
His sponsors now include Ace Designs, Tail Waggers Academy, Glo Derma, Tesstastic Treats, Hays & Sons Car Care Center, Main Street Theatre and From The Ground Up.
“We never thought it was going to get this big,” she said.
“I am super proud of Nicky,” she added. “Being able to get out there and share this joy and spread some sunshine in a time where there’s so much negativity is really impressive.
“We’re hoping he inspires other kids his age to do the same. And as Nicky says, ‘It feels good to do good.’”