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FOX 28 announces Jefferson Awards winner for August 2017

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This month's Jefferson Award winner is Britnee Kinard. (Credit: Shelbey Roberts)

FOX 28 is a proud partner of the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that recognizes local heroes who help make their city better through community service. For the month of August, FOX 28 is recognizing Britnee Kinard from Richmond Hill for her work with partnering service dogs with families in need.

Gunner, a Great Pyranese, is more than just a pet for Kinard and her family. The fluffy ball of fur is actually a service dog.

"Having Gunner looked like a big snowball. You know everybody approaches him," Kinard said.

Gunner helps out her 7-year old son, Blayne who has autism and her husband, Hamilton who's a veteran with PTSD.

But the process to get Gunner didn't come easily. Kinard says her family went through an 18-month battle with Veterans Affairs after Hamilton was diagnosed with PTSD.

"When you're talking about someone who has chronic or severe PTSD who is considering suicide, they can't wait two to three years," said Kinard.

That's why she decided to start the SD Gunner Fund in 2014. The non-profit partners families in need with service dogs and also subsidizes their costs.

She said, "We would cover the cost of the training. We would cover the cost of veterinary care, food. Anything and everything we could."

Depending on where you look, service dogs can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $75,000. But, with the help of donations and a team of four volunteers, Kinard says the SD Gunner Fund is able to purchase, train, and care for service dogs for about $7,500.

"The sheer thought of some of my mothers you know missing mortgage payments to try to pay for a service animal, it didn't sit well with me," she said.

For mothers like Kellie Ruiz, the organization has been a saving grace. Kellie's service dog helps out her three-year old autistic son Zander, who is also recovering from brain surgery.

"They're amazing. They're not just great people. They're family now. They've been there for us, supporting us when people that you thought would be there weren't," Ruiz said through tears.

Kinard says she's grateful to be sharing the information with others.

"I don't want anybody to go through the headache that I had to go through. I don't want anybody to feel lost or like they don't have anybody in the world who understands how crazy it is," she said.

If you're interested in volunteering with or donating to the SD Gunner Fund, visit the organization's Facebook page or website.

Congratulations, Britnee Kinard! If you know a local hero that is making a positive difference in their community, nominate them for a Jefferson Award here.