How do we try to put words to today’s experience?
A couple of months ago, we were contacted by Cherie, the site manager for the Youth Education Centre (Flexicentre) in Adelaide. Cherie asked if we’d be willing to come and speak to their students about our trip and Luna. Cherie was up front and told us that many of their students are disengaged, and have had very difficult lives for those so young. We told Cherie we’d be more than happy to come and meet her and the students, which eventuated this morning!
The staff were so happy to see us and came to speak with us before the students broke for recess. We were made to feel so very welcome 🙂
Watching the students arrive at The Hub for their self made recess of toasties and a hot drink, we could see the initial reaction to seeing strangers in their space. We let them be and set up our equipment, and set our kids up with some colouring in activities. One of the young girls helped our youngest daughter choose her favourite design to colour in.
The time for presentation arrived, and Cherie introduced us to the group of students, staff and support staff. We recorded the presentation for the purposes of our documentary, and made sure that we had permission to film and photograph today’s event.
While Paul spoke to the group, informally and casually, Luna made her rounds of the students. Normally she would have been at Paul’s feet in a “drop” position, but he purposefully let her roam the room to interact with the youth in the room. We were able to observe these teens letting their guards down and smiling as they scratched/pet/played with Luna as she walked around. Luna was the perfect icebreaker to a topic that included the importance of checking on your mates, and speaking up if you’re not feeling ok. Paul spoke about Lifeline’s 24/7 crisis support, be it on the phone or the chat service, and that depression and mental illness can creep up on anyone at any stage.
There was genuine interest in Luna’s abilities as a mindDog, and even though she paced the room and loved the attention, she always came back to Paul to make sure he was ok. Staff and students could see her ‘working’, and seemed to appreciate that Luna really is a special dog.
One student was struggling to understand the concept of a service dog for someone with mental illness, and was asking questions to try and comprehend. This didn’t concern either Paul or Kirstine, as those who have not had positive experiences with dogs or other animals, need time to process the idea. The student’s enquiring mind was welcome, and we’re sure that even though he became eventually left The Hub to try and work through this new idea, he will be thinking about our visit today. One teacher told us that the student had wanted to come back and speak with Paul, but was worried about upsetting him. Our concern had been for the student, so we were incredibly touched to hear that he was not wanting to upset Paul by continuing his quest to understand.
We know that some of the students instinctively “got” the message about Mental Health Assistance Dogs, and all the teachers thanked us for coming. For us, it was very much an honour to have been invited, and to meet these youths who are hardened by a difficult life, but have so much potential.
Paul was drained after the presentation, and admitted during it, that it was stressful to stand and talk in front of people. His candour definitely helped him relate to the audience. It was our first speaking engagement, and will always be remembered for its significance and the receptive audience.
Thank you Cherie, Trish, Anton, Sally, Sister Bernadette, Liz, and the other staff whose names we missed. Thank you also to the students who attended today. You respected us. and our kids, and loved Luna. We think you’re all wonderful!