ARLEE (KPAX) — The Arlee Rehabilitation Center started with one man who saw demand for those in need and wanted to meet it by combining his two passions—people and animals—together.

It started as a dream about 10 years ago for Philip Panusz, the Arlee Rehabilitation Center’s executive director and founder, who went through a traumatic experience when he lost his beloved dog.

To help his healing from the loss, he started volunteering with a local animal shelter, where his passion for helping animals and people collided.

“And the idea is that healing for animals and healing for people are two things that you really can't separate,” Panusz said.

The week-long camp is serving 21 kids where they partake in a transformative healing curriculum, using animals as the vehicle of this learning. Julian Constantini, the camp coordinator, says that even though one week is not enough time, the camp just hopes the kids take the lessons with them when they leave.

“It's through the connection with the animals, and through the curriculum, they're able to sort of use that the healing power of animals to take those tools with them after they leave here,” said Constantini.

“And so, building the bridge between us and those kids, with the help of animals is really a powerful strategy because the kids really gravitate to those dogs and the horses and the birds,” said Panusz.

The kids at the Pawsitively Healing Camp learn about empathy, stress management, communication and relationships, as well as self-esteem and self-empowerment.

“More of that, that's self-empowerment and learning nonverbal communication and how to read dogs' behaviors and how that ties in with reading human behaviors and stuff,” said Constantini.

While the kids are there to gain tools on how to heal, there is lots of fun to be had.

“It was really cool because it kind of felt like I was floating," said Gia Shelby, Pawsitively Healing camper. "And it was really fun because I got to pet the horse while I was on it.”

Philip says that there is a need on the reservation to serve and that they have been working in relationship with the local tribes to make an impact within the community. Deja-nay Littlemarry, camper and fill-in-volunteer, echoes a similar sentiment.

“They started this camp because you know, we have people from all over the Flathead Reservation coming together," said Littlemarry. "And you know, building a better community.”

The camp wrapped up on Friday and the kids had one thing to say—excellent, in Salish.

The nonprofit does have plans to continue serving the Flathead Indian Reservation. With summer camps for kids and other programs, however, they do need your help. If you or someone you know is interested in helping out this community, click here to visit the website.

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