November 19, 2020

Craig Nielsen

Craig with son, Zack. Photo by Andy Jackson

Brave, defined by Craig; 

Get in there, get it done. Be aware, question, plan and be agile.

Alongside a team of passionate parents and supporters, Conductive Education’s Craig Nielsen has been the driving force behind a small community organisation that has achieved huge things in such a short time. But the journey has been far from easy for the Taranaki man, so what is it that gives Craig his own inspiration, drive, and motivation to continue the brave crusade? Hannah recently put some questions to him, to find out those very details.

If only it was as simple as “do the mahi, get the treats”.

The reality is, running a successful community organisation requires hard work, dedication, manpower, and a never-say-die attitude. Plus a whole lot more.

For the team at Conductive Education, their efforts are slowly starting to pay off. Being real, being visible, and being vulnerable enough to openly share their struggles and stories have been significant ingredients in the organisation’s recipe for success. When combined with the raw grit and determination that comes with a desperate need to do all you can for the benefit of a loved one, it’s not hard to imagine the lengths someone in Craig’s situation would go to. But imagining, and actually doing, are worlds apart. That feat, takes a special kind of brave.   

Craig says having children changes your life, along with your perspective on life itself.

“With that in mind, throw a disability into the mix and things get somewhat more ‘dynamic’.”

When asked what the biggest and bravest challenge is that he has ever faced, Craig thinks back to a time when he ventured to America at 21 years old, with $1000 to his name. But that escapade full of fun and youthful exuberance is soon dismissed when a more recent situation is pulled from the memory bank.

“The bravest…sitting in Zak’s CE assessment in Hamilton when he was about one year old and realising how far behind his peers he was. Seeing a video of older CE kids was a reality check that disability was going to be a big part of our lives. I guess partly through denial and grieving for parental dreams of football, go-karting and regular life slipping away. That video was a window to the effort that was going to be required to help him prosper.”

Soon after that realisation, Craig gave up his career to support and work alongside Zak in his pre-school years in order to give him the best possible start in life, while also kicking off the CE journey for Taranaki kids alongside other passionate families.

Now joined by a raft of committed trustees, operations staff, additional supporters and families, Craig says the tight-knit community all work to the same philosophy. It’s one that adds to the positive foundation laid down by those people themselves.

“Conductive Education’s philosophy is to work from a place of opportunity. You may have struggles in front of you (we all do), so much like the work with our kids in-centre, our group is all about asking ourselves “how can we do this?”.

That philosophy is something Craig credits to his family life, along with belonging to a community that makes him feel proud, connected and empowered.

“My brothers and I are fortunate to have had a great example set by our parents that you get out what you put in. This is never more-so than with mahi in our community. Taranaki is magic. It’s small enough that you can spread your message, and large enough that you can create change and impact. I’m not sure if that’s partly due to our geographic location or other factors, but our region produces so many resilient and resourceful people. It is a great place to be.”

The aroha received from the community, particularly in recent times with the organisation receiving $130,000 in generous donations, is something that leaves Craig feeling incredibly humbled, appreciative and proud.

“It makes me feel so proud for our people, the kids and families especially, that we have provided a voice for a marginalised sector of our community. Let’s be honest, disability isn’t exactly glamorous. It can be demanding on time and finances, for what may appear like little return. The reality is, that investment is significant, and the positive impact for our families is huge.”

For a young organisation, Craig knows they have punched above their weight. He also knows that times may continue to get tougher for those needing community help, but takes pride in the fact that he and the team at CE will continue punching.

“To a certain degree, there is an element of satisfaction there in receiving that support. Satisfaction and validation that we are doing the right thing and giving people an opportunity that was not previously available in Taranaki.

“We simply have to keep going, to help empower our people and community to be the best they can be.”

We also felt Craig deserved some parting words without us meddling with his commentary. Here’s what he had to say (FYI, if we were meddling, we probably would have thrown a swear word in the first point).

  • Don’t park in disability parks without a pass!
  • A massive heartfelt thanks to everyone that has supported our group and families, to those who “get it” and can see that it could be themselves, or anyone they know, in our shoes. A sincere appreciation and admiration to our families putting in the graft daily to support their whanau the best they can. A HoooRah shout out to my family and friends for being both the voice of reason and prime motivators, and to our amazing crew of people that support and deliver our mahi every day!
  • A special mention to Zak. I had no idea what a motivating force a non-verbal kid with significant challenges could be. How you have positively impacted mine and many lives around you, thank you for helping to make our community a more empowering and empathetic place to be!