Kiss for Independence and Michaela Welch

Kiss for Independence?

Kiss for Independence

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Written by Michaela Welch

Kiss for Independence was a fundraising effort to help me fulfill my dream to attend college, live one day independently, and becoming employed where I can work with animals. 

I came up with the idea of having a dog kissing booth while looking on Pinterest. We created Kiss For Independence because I wanted to raise money to help me pay for the Path to Independence Program at University of Nevada Reno. I applied for this program because it fit my needs and will help me reach my goal. I was accepted into the program and started in Fall 2016. The program is designed to help students just like me. There were only 10 students in the program, so it was individually designed to meet my specific needs.

My goal was to attend the Path to Independence program at the University of Nevada Reno. This is a two year program that will help me reach my goals of one day working as a veterinary assistant and living on my own.

NOTE: Michaela graduated from the University of Nevada Path to Independence Program being awarded with the University of Nevada Certificate in College and Career Studies on May 16, 2018.

Currently she helps Dr. Wendy Johnson at Tahoe Integrative Veterinary Care and is a dog walker for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe.

Michaela's Story

Kiss for Independence: Michaela's Story

I am Michaela Welch, a 22 year old Truckee High School graduate that wanted to attend a college program just like many other students dream about in high school. For me, going to college wasn't that easy. I have some disabilities that make it harder for me to learn than my friends. I am hearing impaired and wear hearing aids in both ears. I have cerebral palsy which makes some everyday activities more difficult for me than the average person, and I have an intellectual disability, which makes learning hard for me, but that doesn't keep me from wanting to do my very best and go to college. I am a hard worker that never gives up, after all, I have trained and completed the 26.2 mile St. George Marathon and was awarded the Clark Morris Special Achievement Award out of 7,800 runners :) I love animals and would love to work in that field for a career.


I am interested in becoming a Veterinary Assistant where I can work closely with animals. My dream would be to work in a veterinary hospital or in a location where animals stay when their families are away. I enjoy running, snowshoeing and skiing with my dog Cruz and spending time with my family outdoors. 

I currently volunteer at the Truckee Humane Society 3 days per week, and help Dr. Wendy Robinson at Tahoe Integrative Veterinary Care in Truckee 1 day a week.

Independent living

I want to live on my own, just like everyone else. I hope to get married and start a family one day. To have this opportunity, I need help learning how to manage my budget, cook my meals, and get myself to work using public transportation.


Career path

I have always loved working with animals and when I was in high school, I volunteered at the Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe. While volunteering at the Humane Society, I would play with dogs and cats, walk dogs along the walking path and make peanut butter Kong's as treats for the animals. 

I have also volunteered as a Veterinary Assistant a few weeks at my Uncle Tom's Newport Mesa Animal Hospital. I helped "Dr. Tom" give shots, with surgeries, dentistry pulling teeth, bandaging paws, and helped with baths. 

I have worked at Canine Country and Truckee Tahoe Pet Lodge with dogs and cats. I also make Kong's with treats in them for the guests. I play with the dogs in the play yard and play with cats in the cat room.  I do laundry and put towels, dishes and rags in the correct rooms. I clean dirty nose prints off the windows and vacuum hair in the groomer's room and lobby. During holidays, I help decorate for our celebrations.


Tahoe Dog Gear is a business that my dad started for me. I help sell dog collars, leashes, dog beds, shirts, hats, pint glasses, and decals. We sell our collars and leashes at many festivals in the Tahoe/Truckee area. You can find us making dogs happy at the Made in Tahoe Festival at Squaw Valley, Truckee Thursdays in historic downtown Truckee all summer long, and other festivals.

Flash forward

Flash forward: Updates on Kiss for Independence progress

Scroll down to see photos of her experience.

Michaela graduated from the University of Nevada Path to Independence program on May 16, 2018!

Michaela was awarded UNR's Certificate in College & Career Studies in the Path to Independence Program.   

Update 5/22/2018

I finished my second year at UNR in the Path to Independence Program and graduated with a University of Nevada Certificate in College and Career studies.

Thank you for making donations, making purchases through Tahoe Dog Gear, and helping me make my dreams come true. I couldn’t have done this without your amazing help.

I would like to recommend this program to other students with special needs.

I took classes in the fall at UNR. I took Communications 101, Modern dance class 138 and independent living class. In Communications we learned how to give speeches. In Modern Dance we learned different types of Modern dance.

In Spring 2018 I took Business 101, Psychology 101 and Money Matters classes. In  business I  learned about Finance, Marketing Accounting, Economics, and information systems. In Business class we did Powerpoints and we talked about different businesses. In Psychology I learn about the mind soul and behaviors. I also learned about Mental disorders like Depression. I learn a lot in these classes.

I went to really fun events at school like volleyball games, basketball games, football games, baseball games, movie nights, and late night the Joe Crowley student union. I lived in a house across the street from campus. I loved going to events on campus and having a lot of fun with friends. I made new friends at UNR and they went to social events with me. I enjoyed going to these events because they are fun with friends. I made a lot of memories and have fun with my friends in backstage. The plays that I did in backstage was the Flick and I had a lot of fun working on that play. I also enjoy going out to eat with my friends on campus and have drinks. 

I really enjoyed these memories because I had a lot of fun at social events and being with friends. I took some fun classes this semester. I enjoyed being a college student. I enjoy these events at school because I get to have fun and teach the first year students to have fun and take them to football games, basketball games, baseball games, volleyball games, and movie night at the Joe. 

I feel ready and happy to live independently. I look forward to working with animals. I want a career as veterinary assistant at a pet clinic or finding some other job with animals. I’m going to look at different vet hospitals and clinics. I’m going to apply for jobs this summer.

Updated 5/22/2017

I had an amazing first year of college. I just finished my first year in the UNR Path to Independence program.  

I'm going to start my second year in the program this fall. I made a lot of friends in the program at UNR!  I went to a lot of Wolfpack games and movie nights at The Joe Crowley Student Union. I enjoy living across the campus from the new fitness center at UNR. 

In my first semester (Fall 2016) I took four classes. HDFS 202 introduction to Families, Veterinary Medicine 101, Swimming, and Planned Parenthood's Relationships and Sexuality (my independent living class). In HDFS I learned about families in the past and  today. In Veterinary Medicine class I learned about working with different types of animals. In Swimming I did really fun activities like playing water polo, doing workouts, swam a mile for a triathlon, and took a test. In Relationships and Sexuality class I learned about different birth control methods and talking about relationships. 

The classes I took this semester (Spring 2017) was English 98, HDFS 204 Parenting and Guidance, and Steps to Self Determination (my independent living class). In English class I learn about the culture of North Korea and I worked on my writing skills in English. In HDFS 204 I learned about families and parenting. In Self Determination I learned about being the boss of yourself and being self determined. 

I live in a house for the first time on campus with my two roommates. I wake up in the morning, get dressed and walk to class. I'm having a lot of fun at UNR and having a great time there.


I have successfully completed three Veterinary Assistant classes through Online classes offered by Sierra College Extension Program. I learned a lot about animals in these classes.

Additionally, Michaela has completed the Wilderness First Aid for Dogs from T3 Adventures Wilderness Education

Michaela's Video for the UNR Path to Independence Program

Michaela made this video as part of her application for admittance into the UNR Path to Independence Program. She tells us about her dreams, goals, the path she has taken, and the journey she wants for pursue.

College for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Path to Independence program

University of Nevada


  • An inclusive, two-year, non-degree certificate program offering a college experience to students with intellectual disabilities.
  • A collaborative effort of UNR's Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED) and the University of Nevada Reno Extended Studies Department