Youth in need of a confidence boost will be getting one from their canine friends in a programme linking troubled kids with unwanted dogs, thanks to a Jetstar Flying Start grant.
Nelson Ark, which runs the programme, hopes to use the $30,000 grant to subsidise its intensive course costs and take its school-based sessions on a nation-wide tour.
Community co-ordinator Karen Howieson was stunned by the funding boost, which includes $15,000 cash and $15,000 travel.
"We hope to do presentations around the country and use the generous flight money and spread our message to get others passionate about our work."
Nelson Ark runs Apart, an eight-week course with regular follow-ups in the year after it is completed, and Healing Species, which is a classroom-based session that travels around schools in the Nelson Tasman area.
Apart - Animals, People and Rehabilitative Training - pairs a teen with a dog trainer and rescue dog. They meet for two hours three times a week, and work on a training programme to get the dog ready to be rehomed.
Howieson said it was all about teaching the students to be more resilient and to recognise their own strengths.
"A lot suffer depression or anxiety and have had involvement with mental health services," she said. The dogs offered the youth struggling with self-esteem issues unconditional love without judgment.
"Dogs are unconditional, they accept us however we are and don't judge us," she said. "For a lot of young people it's someone to talk to that doesn't judge them. We very carefully try and match each young person with a dog."
Howieson said it was a win-win situation as the dog was prepped and ready for its new home, and the teen was given new skills to cope with life's challenges.
Grace Trower, 21, said if it hadn't been for Nelson Ark she didn't think she'd have had the confidence to become a chef.
"I was a failure at school at most things because I let myself think that I was no better."
Initially she thought the Nelson Ark programme was an easy out from the classroom.
But she soon found it was more than just a get out of school free card.
Trower said working with Zeb, the dog she was matched with, was challenging but proved a success for both.
"I tried to help him and it was a long process for both of us, but it worked. Zeb was adopted into an amazing family," she said. "I left Nelson to follow my career wherever it took me."
Trower was now living in the "big world", having settled in Dunedin where she's starting full-time work as second in charge of a cafe kitchen.
Howieson said the course had helped numerous teens like Trower cope with their emotional issues.
She said surveys of participants before and after the course found the initial two-thirds accessing mental health services were reduced to only a third after the programme.
Dean Salter, chief executive of Jetstar Australia and New Zealand said the airline was impressed with the approach the Nelson Ark programme took to helping young people.
"Giving their time and energy to rehabilitate unwanted animals provides an immersive learning experience with a focus on emotional intelligence, and that really appealed to our judging panel," he said.