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Healing Force of Nature’s Mates

As the team at Happy Paws Happy Hearts began to see many of their program participants gain the confidence to take the next step towards independence, they created a new program – with care for animals at its core – to help those participants reach their vocational goals.


“A lot of our participants come to us deeply socially isolated, so much so that leaving the house once a week is a terrifying challenge,” explains Kellie Ireland, deputy CEO of Happy Paws Happy Hearts.


The social enterprise was founded in 2014 to provide a safe environment where people care for rescue animals and, while helping the furry, feathered or scaley friends to be better prepared for adoption, they build their own social connections, skills and confidence. This year, around 500 people have joined facilitated sessions each week across seven locations around the country.


“Once they’ve been with us for some time, we see our participants transform and, for many, they start to want a little more,” Ireland says. “So, we created our ‘Explore’ program to help make that next transition not so scary – whether it’s into employment, or further study or independent volunteering. Around 70 per cent of participants are young people and most have dropped out of school, so it’s really important to us that we help show them they’ve got value and skills to offer.”


During the 24-week job-readiness program, first piloted in 2020, participants learn skills such as applying for a job, interview techniques and workplace communication – all brought to life through the thoughtful integration of animals into the training curriculum. Graduates are offered a work placement or study opportunity aligned with their personal goals, providing them with hands-on experience. To date, 66% of participants have gone on to employment, further study or independent volunteering.


Ireland says the program was backed by Westpac Foundation from day one, both from a funding perspective – enabling the expansion of the ‘Explore’ program – and an “on-the-ground” operational perspective, support opportunities having been unlocked by the volunteer Westpac Group employees matched as Community Ambassadors to the social enterprise.


This has included coordinating Westpac Group branch staff to run financial literacy sessions as part of the ‘Explore’ program at their local Happy Paws Happy Hearts sites, making the process of banking a little less daunting for the young participants by improving their financial confidence.


“I can’t get over how invested our Westpac Community Ambassadors are,” Ireland says. “They’ve connected us to all these resources within the Westpac Group network that we would not otherwise have been aware of. Their beautiful hearts, their genuine passion, professionalism and networks have made a catalytic impact for us.”


Read our 2023 Impact Report (PDF 7MB) to find out more about our Westpac Foundation partners, like Happy Paws Happy Hearts who are making a difference in their local communities and how we are building a better tomorrow, together.