Building Good Habits, Changing Lives in NZ

Heather Del Nero and Abbey Pugmire sat with twenty kiwi teens on a bus in New Zealand, on their way to a camp for at-risk youth. Searching for a way to break the ice, the two BYU students drew on lessons they’d learned in recreation management classes and turned to music games.

“Before you know it, everyone was singing together,” Pugmire says. “It was way awesome.”

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Heather Del Nero, left, and Abbey Pugmire during their two-week visit to New Zealand.

The semester before, Del Nero and Pugmire prepped in Provo. Students in an experience design capstone class were working with Feed the Need, a nonprofit in New Zealand that provides meals for schoolchildren and wanted to host a summer camp to help at-risk youth.

The capstone class (RECM 494R) focuses on the middle section of Marriott School Dean Lee Perry’s initiative “Learn, Do, Become.” Teams of students, mentored by a faculty member, work with real-world clients. Brian Hill mentored the Feed the Need team, which included Del Nero, who will graduate in April, and Pugmire, a pre-management major, who worked with them outside of class. Pugmire had served an LDS mission in New Zealand and approached Hill about doing more for the kiwi youth. Knowing her experiences and insights could prove beneficial, he brought her on.

Prior to that fall semester, Hill had coordinated with Feed the Need and helped the nonprofit connect to existing curriculum for a camp based on Sean Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

“When the students came on board, their job was to find activities for this camp for at-risk youth that would supplement the curriculum,” Hill says.

The team Skyped with the nonprofit monthly and brainstormed ways to use recreation to reinforce the positive habits.

“For example, there was an obstacle course at the camp,” Del Nero says. “One of the habits is to put first things first. So when you see this huge obstacle course looming ahead of you, you take it one step at a time. That one really inspired confidence in the teens.”

While in New Zealand, Del Nero and Pugmire also directed leadership and team building activities.

“It was a bonding experience for the group,” Pugmire says.

Though Del Nero and Pugmire were in New Zealand for only two weeks and the camp lasted just one, the experience continues to impact everyone involved. The two still check in weekly with some of the teens.

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Heather Del Nero, left, and Abbey Pugmire at the LDS New Zealand Temple Visitors’ Center.

Among the lessons Pugmire learned is that people can change.

“They supported each other in their goals, and they’re accomplishing their goals, which is really encouraging,” she says. She hopes to continue working with at-risk youth, especially through summer camps.

Del Nero felt inspired by the founders of the nonprofit and they work they do.

“It changed my life,” Del Nero says. “I want to go out and change the world.”