Nelson ARK changing the lives of youths and their four-legged friends

At Nelson ARK, at-risk youth have the chance to learn compassion, respect and responsibility through training rescue dogs.

The ARK’s APART Programme (Animals, People and Rehabilitative Training) pairs a young person  with a recue dog, which they must train over a term to prepare them for adoption.

Nelson ARK Co-ordinator and Founding Trustee Karen Howieson says the APART Programme has had a positive impact on youth wellbeing.

“Our aim is for them  to find new skills,  hold onto their power,  deal with difficult situations in a different way, and  make connections outside of family,” she says.

“A lot of our young people talk about Nelson ARK as a place they feel safe and comfortable, where they feel at home, and have a sense of belonging.”

She says the organisation has a strong focus on youth participation and decision-making – supporting and enabling them to be more involved in their communities.

“We want young people to have the capabilities to be leaders in their own lives, in their own communities. We want them to have a voice, and use that voice to create positive change.”

And the learning doesn’t stop once the youths have trained their dogs – the Healing Species Programme allows graduates to bring what they’ve learnt to the classroom.

Healing Species is a compassion education and violence intervention programme in which graduates can act as an ‘assistant teacher’ in wellbeing lessons.

Nelson ARK Graduate and Healing Species mentor Kira Evenden says there is no better way to reach young people and put a focus on wellbeing than with dogs.

“We teach intermediate level students about mental distress, how to recognise the signs, what it is, how to help a friend who is struggling, and how to support yourself.”

Kira says before she joined the ARK, she had no idea what she wanted to do once she finished school – but the ARK helped her find her way.

“People would ask me ‘what are your plans for later in life?’ and I’d go to bed later that night and bawl my eyes out because I didn’t know what I was going to do – I was panicking and there was so much pressure, it scared me to no end” she says.

“I joined the ARK and I realised I have a huge passion for mental health and helping other people – from there, I decided I wanted to be a psychologist. The Healing Species Programme lets me explore that passion and put the skills I have learnt into practice.”

Nelson ARK was funded through Rātā Foundation’s Support priority area.

For more information on the Nelson ARK, visit their website at http://thenelsonark.co.nz/