First up was Shukrani, 13, who came from a refugee camp in Tanzania. The sight of Lily drew a broad smile from her. Shukrani plopped down in a purple beanbag seat, petted Lily and read to her from “Taking Care of a Bird.”
Joining them was Lily’s owner, Cindy Zeldin, 79, of Atlanta, who has extensive experience as a psychotherapist and who works as a life coach treating children with anxiety. Zeldin calls her volunteer work at the school an expression of her Jewish faith.
“You read so well,” Zeldin told Shukrani. “My goodness, I’m impressed.”
Shukrani: “When I first came here. I didn’t know how to read, but now my reading level is going higher.” The key, Shukrani explained, is practice. “I read every day.”
Zeldin hugged Shukrani and gave her a sticker that declares: “Reading is Fun!”
Next came Suzana, 16, of Eritrea. She brought a book about Ana Dodson, a humanitarian worker from Peru. Zeldin helped Suzana understand the meaning of the word “disaster” and the difference between the noun and verb forms of “lives.”
“You are very special just because you are who you are,” Zeldin told Suzana.
Mu Doe, 15, of Thailand, was next with a book, “Be Kind,” by Pat Zietlow Miller. She got tripped up on the word “laughed,” so Zeldin helped her pronounce it. Then she explained the meaning of the word “smock.” Mu Doe was hesitant with Lily.
“Not every dog is like Lily,” Zeldin told her. “You don’t want to just go pet every single dog, right? You have to be careful. Sometimes you might ask the person, ‘What do you think? Am I allowed to pet your dog? Or am I not?’”
“She is kind and nice,” Mu Doe said of Lily.
Lily’s last visitor of the day was Fatima, 14, of Syria. Earlier this year, Fatima wouldn’t enter the same room with Lily. But she couldn’t get enough of Lily during her most recent visit. Setting aside “Freckle Juice” by Judy Blume, Fatima crawled on the floor with the pup and gazed lovingly at her.
“Oh my God, she is so friendly,” Fatima said. “You are my friend. You are my best friend. She is so nice.”
Zeldin: “She loves you. She remembers when you were really afraid. And now look at you.”
“I love you,” Fatima told Lily. “She is so delightful.”
Fatima, who now wants her own dog and a cat, will attend Druid Hills High School next year.
“I am ready. I am so excited to be there.”
Their job done, Zeldin slipped with Lily into a library down the hall for a break. Lily took a sip of water from a Styrofoam bowl, sprawled on the floor and contentedly fell fast asleep.