Suzuki works to bring out inner heroes with the Asista Foundation
Asista Foundation ambassador Nick Suzuki is helping shelter animals while positively impacting those struggling with mental health.
Feature photo: IG / @asistafoundation
It is a project that makes Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki pause, or in this case, paws, for thought.
In June of 2022, Suzuki was announced as an official ambassador for the Asista Foundation – an organization that helps people cope with their mental health through trained service dogs – while kicking off their “A Hero Within All of Us” campaign.
Suzuki, who has two cats named Milo and Leo, knows firsthand what animal companionship can do for a person.
“I think animals can be so important in relation to mental health. I am an animal lover, and to see them bring so much happiness to many different people – it’s been really special,” said Suzuki.
“We have a double mission,” stated John Agionicolaitis, co-founder and director of public affairs for the foundation.
“We are going to go save dogs at shelters and train them to help people with mental health struggles. Our facility-service dog program allows us to place them somewhere that fits with our services, for example, a special needs school where our dog can intervene in crisis situations.
“Our campaign we are doing with Nick is about showcasing [that] whether you are a hockey player, a teacher, whoever you are – we all have that hero aspect within us.”
Asista has found an ideal partner in Suzuki, who was named the 31st captain in Canadiens history on Sept. 12, 2022.
“We were looking for an ambassador who checked all the boxes,” said Agionicolaitis. “We are not here for the fame – we are here to help our community, the dogs and those who are dealing with mental health issues. So, I reached out to Nick’s agency about two and a half years ago with the idea of him joining us.”
Suzuki was happy to accept the offer.
“I think it is important to raise awareness and show that there is a need for these animals in various situations,” he told NHLPA.com.
“The ‘A Hero Within All of Us’ campaign I did with them in 2022 kind of encompasses it all – we all have the chance to make a difference in others’ lives. Through Asista, I can hopefully have a voice and put an emphasis on the work they do.”
Agionicolaitis has a long list of superlatives to describe the 24-year-old centre.
“Nick is the humblest person that I have ever worked with in the industry. He takes time from his busy schedule to help us. He is very generous, very kindhearted, and goes above and beyond.”
It was something that Agionicolaitis witnessed during a visit to a local area school.
Before the proceedings started, Suzuki struck up a conversation with a person working at the school.
“One of the first people Nick went to greet was a member of the support staff. He went out of his way to go and speak with them. For me, seeing that when there were cameras all around, he wanted to make time for that person, isolated from the crowd.”
Agionicolaitis has been privy to similar moments during such visits.
“Last year, we went to a school where a child had lost his father and the last memory that he had of his dad was them going to a Habs game together – it was emotional for a lot of people to hear that.
“The goosebumps moments when we go to the schools is when people open up and share their stories, which you didn’t expect to hear. There is this wonderful bond that you see come to life.”
Something that’s deeply meaningful to Suzuki.
“Two years in a row I was able to see first-hand how much these dogs help in a school environment, and how much Asista means to a lot of kids and families.”
Last August, Suzuki hosted the first edition of Nick Suzuki’s Heroes Golf Tournament, with proceeds going towards Asista.
Funds raised went towards dogs selected for the program, who came from shelters or rescues and receive specialized training based on the needs related to the person with whom they are paired.
“It was great to be part of that first tournament,” said Suzuki. “We were also able to welcome some of the Asista dogs before the game for fans to meet them and hang out with all of us – that was pretty cool. I’ve been able to meet a bunch of the dogs and puppies that they work with too.”
“A Hero Within All of Us” will look to build on its growing success to assist more individuals who need mental health support.
Agionicolaitis is looking forward to what the future holds for the campaign and the continued impact it is having on the community.
“Nick’s voice amplifies our message. We are a grassroots organization and a unique organization, in the sense that we cater to a very specific need in our community. Partnering with Nick allows us to get our message out there and help more dogs and more people, individuals who often suffer in silence.
“He is the type of ambassador who is very hands-on, in the sense that he is open to finding new ways to help and address the issues people are dealing with. It’s a two-way relationship, which we are very proud of.”
Suzuki has bonded with several service dogs who come through Asista.
Something that has not a surprised Agionicolaitis.
“Nick loves animals. The dogs are big fans of Nick, and he is a big fan of the dogs. It’s a win-win for everyone.”