Kim Rodgers/Bark Pet Photography
08/09/2010 at 09:11 AM EDT
We love animal shelters for the work they often do to benefit animals' lives. From healthcare to training and fostering to placement, they can be amazing places – but sometimes it's hard to see that when facilities start to look a little rough around the edges. Luckily, there's Lu Parker
The anchor and reporter for KTLA in Los Angeles, and former Miss USA, recently launched a non-profit called the Lu Parker Project
, aimed at beautifying animal shelters in the Los Angeles area. "I've always been involved with animals – I've had my own, and worked with the Best Friends Animal Society and South L.A. Shelter," she tells PEOPLEPets.com. "I met volunteers and employees, and saw some of the pressing issues they faced. I realized if I put some people together, we could make some great changes."
Just last month, Parker organized a group of volunteers, including high-risk teens and the Urban Arts Crew, and spent a day beautifying the South L.A. Shelter
. "I slowly talked to staffers at the shelter about it," Parker says. "I asked, 'What do you guys need? What would you like?' They said they wanted more color, happiness and life. So that's what we gave them."
Parker and her team hung photos donated by local pet photographers, repainted the lobby in bright hues, posted Spanish-language signs for visitors and over the course of a few days, created an intricate mural in the entryway. "It's a city skyline that incorporates a tree and animals," Parker explains. "It shows that though it's a tough city with urban issues, there's still life coming out of it. It really lifts your spirits."
All of the materials were donated, and Parker hopes to do a story of her own on the project, too. "I want to get the word out about the South L.A. Shelter," she says. "Once people know it's been renovated, hopefully they'll want to go see it and even help maintain it."
Parker will definitely be back: Not only does she volunteer at the shelter, but she adopted her dog Monkey from the facility as well. "They have amazing animals," she says. "They are beautiful, and there are so many of them. But since it's one of six shelters in L.A., people don't necessarily know about it."
They will now. Continued beautification projects at the South L.A. Shelter include a day of gardening and outdoor maintenance, and perhaps a day of dog and cat grooming. "It was frightening to take that first step and say we'd do all this," Parker shares. "But it was the right thing to do. And it feels so good." Meet more people making a difference on PEOPLEPets.com:Pamela Anderson Helps Needy Louisiana Pups – And Takes Two Home!Kristen Bell's Pet Project: Raising Funds for Special Needs Animals