We had the good fortune of connecting with Tosha Tharp-Gaitanis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tosha, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in El Mirage, Arizona, and lived there until I moved to the East Valley in my mid-twenties. My father was a Children’s Minister, and as a teenager, I worked with children from all walks of life. Using my creativity, I assisted in various activities, including puppet skits and games, even going so far as to put a pie in my dad’s face without getting into trouble! The highlight of any child’s life! I went on to teach Sunday school and truly loved working with younger kids, and during high school, I was very active in Key Club, where I learned about leadership and about giving back to the community.
Entering the workforce, I taught a Pharmacy Technician Program at a vocational college, relishing the opportunity to find new ways of inspiring my students before I was appointed Director of Career Services there. It was my responsibility to prepare our students for the final step in their educational journey – externship — by matching them with the facilities that best suited their needs. Then, once they graduated, we helped them find positions in their chosen fields.
When I left to have a second child, my son, I fully intended to return to work. But at the age of four, he was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism/Aspergers, and everything changed. Once again, I drew on my innate creativity and began to think “outside the box.” I continually devised new ways of holding his attention, of encouraging him to cooperate with me in order to complete the exercises so essential to his progress. This was reminiscent of my days as a Sunday school teacher when I constantly devised new ways of keeping the kids I taught engaged and eager to learn.
When I created Pawsitive Friendships, if I knew then what I know now: I’m precisely where I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to do. God had been preparing me for this my entire life, and so, everything has come full circle. While working with my dad in the children’s ministry, I learned about planning and executing activities, but most importantly, about the need for flexibility and spontaneity. In high school, as a member of Key Club, I honed my networking and public speaking skills. When I taught pharmacy technicians, I mentored older adults and created lesson plans for them to follow in order to succeed. At Career Services, I was tasked with ensuring that the students and the facilities we paired were the best matches possible. As Founder and CEO of Pawsitive Friendships, I may draw on the past every day, but I savor the challenge of every tomorrow.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Pawsitive Friendships is an organization rooted in passion. I founded Pawsitive Friendships because I was passionate about my son’s potential and passionate about his ability to succeed and ultimately become the best paws-ible version of himself.
Pawsitive Friendships is also an organization grounded in empathy. Based on my own personal experiences, knowing I was neither unique nor alone, I felt compelled to share our successes with other families of special needs children –- predicated upon the proven merits of Animal Assisted Therapy.
In founding Pawsitive Friendships, the task I’d set for myself proved daunting. Without any experience in the world of nonprofit organizations, I researched extensively and learned “on the job” as much through trial and error as anything else. Ironically, the first lesson I learned was that the term “nonprofit” does NOT mean “free.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The coveted nonprofit designation 501(c)(3) is simply a tax status.
How naïve of me! As a nonprofit organization, we incur the same expenses as so-called “for-profit” businesses. If I could provide our services to the special needs community free of charge, I would. But, in order for Pawsitive Friendships to succeed, it must be run like any other business.
I strongly believe that what makes Pawsitive Friendships so unique is our commitment to creative thinking –- what I call thinking “outside the box.” To never become complacent or grow stale. To continually conjure up new ways of encouraging and educating those we serve in the special needs community.
My personal inspiration remains my son. As he has grown, so too has the variety of programs we offer.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My family has been supportive of my passion from the beginning. Our Board of Directors and volunteers without them Pawsitive Friendships couldn’t serve the community. Mostly my son, Caleb, without him, Pawsitive Friendships wouldn’t exist and continue to evolve.
Linkedin: Pawsitive Friendships
Image of Tosha and pets Hatton Pet Portraits