2020 Finalist: Kelsey Burton

We all know the saying “dogs are a man’s best friend,” and one of our fifteen ELEVATE finalists – Kelsey Burton – put that into practice when she took over as Executive Director of Paws & Think in 2016.

As a finalist for Nonprofit Employee of the Year, Kelsey understands the importance of the dog-human bond and how it can be such a paw-sitive, powerful and life-changing experience. She personally showcased this bond for us when she brought one of her fur-ever friends – Pipsqueak (pictured with Kelsey above) – to our chat!

Her nominator shared the following with us:

“Kelsey has remarkable energy, compassion and intellect enabling her to lead a unique and complex organization. She is one-of-a-kind nonprofit leader who builds up many others through her deep devotion to ensuring a high quality of life for her volunteers, staff, therapy dogs and all clients.”

So paws what you’re doing right now, and read more about Kelsey.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: I was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana – so not too far away. I went to Butler University and graduated with degrees in Biology and Chemistry because I thought I wanted to do conservation work. I ended up changing my mind, which I think most of us do and is totally normal. So if you are a college student reading this – it’s ok!

Q: You’re nominated for Nonprofit Employee of the year, so finish this sentence for us: Being a great nonprofit employee means …

A: Being a great nonprofit employee means, that I am able to look at the bigger picture of how the work that we are doing effects the entire community. I always say that to be a really good nonprofit leader, you need to lead from behind. I’m always there pushing my team forward, giving them the support they need. They know I’ve always got their back. But I don’t need to be standing out in front with all lights on me. I know I am one small piece of the puzzle.

Q: Paws & Think is a great, local nonprofit – tell us a little more about your mission.

A: Paws & Think was established in 2001. Our focus is to improve lives through the power of the human-dog connection. So we take dogs out to help people who need the emotional support, comfort or love that really only a dog can bring.

 We do this through two of our programs. The first is Animal Assisted Interventions (known as pet therapy) where we take dogs who have been trained and evaluated through our organization, to over 50 different places throughout central Indiana including hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities, libraries, support groups – really we are everywhere. The second is our Youth K9 Program, where we pair at risk youth with shelter dogs and the kids train the dogs in basic obedience. We operate this program at a few places, but our longest running one (and most well-known)  is at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center. This program makes the dogs more adoptable and the kids learn basic life skills like empathy, increased self-esteem .

Paws & Think operates with the dedication of 300 volunteers and 125 therapy dogs, serving 60,000 individuals in 100 different central Indiana locations annually.

Q: All the money raised at ELEVATE will support United Way’s Basic Needs Impact Fund, specifically to programs that ensure there are safe, equitable, and affordable housing in Indianapolis. Is there any area of what you are doing at Paws & Think that touches those living in poverty in our community?

A: Many of the kids that we work with in the school systems are living in poverty. When we do reading programs with them some do not even have a single book or anything at home, so we are providing that to them for the first time.

Some of the high school programs that Paws & Think works with, we know the kids are couch hopping. So we are trying to give them a sense of stability every day – that when they show up the same dog is there, it’s going to love on them, and the dog doesn’t care if they are housing insecure or have the coolest clothes. The kids just care that there (furry) friend is there for them that day.


Kelsey isn’t the only superstar in this duo. You can read more about the amazing work of her sidekick, Pipsqueak, here. He even has his own book – sold locally at City Dogs Grocery.  But, don’t forget to first vote Kelsey for ELEVATE “People’s Choice” Award.

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