Youth encounter building self-worth and confidence

When a young man struggling with behaviour issues and lacking confidence was unable to make conversations and became more involved in criminal activities, he was referred to Youth Encounter.

Through engaging with clinical counselling, matched mentoring and group therapy at Youth Encounter, he learnt about values, setting goals and learning self-control to handle his intense emotions.

This young person continued to better himself by refraining from participating in criminal activities and expressing goals for his future.

His mentor commented that “he was feeling confident in himself. However, he would hide behind me when we’d walk past strangers as if he was scared.” After engaging in mentoring sessions more regularly, “he started a conversation with an older man (a stranger) outside the fish’n’chip shop. He asked about his job, interests, and if it was his first time visiting Pukehina. It was a two-way conversation, which the older man was quite impressed with,” says his mentor.

His self-worth and confidence developed through not rushing or telling him he wasn’t capable. He learnt that he could take on life and interact better with improved social skills to take into the community and create value.

Youth Encounter was originally established as a teen camp by Mary and Joel Wanhill in 2009 and has developed into a charitable trust that continues to positively impact the young people of Aotearoa.

Offering various youth development programmes that use dirt bike riding as a tool for practicing skills and behaviours being taught, Youth Encounter is a safe space for young people to ‘live life wide open’. Working with at-risk youth and those from affluent homes struggling to fit in.

Mary, Joel, and their 14 staff have created an environment that accepts young people for where they are, with no agenda to change them but rather unleash their potential from within.

Young people between 9 and 24 are referred to Youth Encounter for extra support. They’re often struggling to find their purpose in life, socially or academically and are frequently seen as having behavioural issues.

Support is provided through various programmes, including group therapy, mentoring from older young people, camps, social catch-ups, one-on-one counselling, and leadership growth. Each programme aims to bring out the potential in a young person by unlocking their self-confidence, courage, talents and interests, and developing their skills to contribute to their future and society positively.

Youth Encounter works with young people who feel left out and don’t fit the mould, meaning many are interested in high-risk activities. With Mary being an ex-professional motocross rider, she learnt that high-risk activities could be used to benefit and improve your life rather than falling victim to the risk-taking desires she had when she was young.

“We see so many young people struggling because their potential has been squashed and they do not have a purpose in life, and therefore search for unhealthy or risky activities or choices to get the attention they’re craving or to feel accepted and belong,” says Mary Wanhill, Youth Encounter Chief Executive.

“We want the young people of Aotearoa to live life wide open, by living to the fullest and being the best they can be in life,” says Mary, “We do this by creating a safe environment where young people belong and feel a sense of belonging that unleashes their potential to live life wide open.”

By providing the journey to find their identity and purpose, strengthening their mana and finding what motivates them, Mary and the Youth Encounter team allow young people to unleash their potential in their own time and their way.

“No one’s behaviours are focused on, and we create an environment where they can join in, unpack the tough stuff and struggles they’ve encountered throughout their lives, and let them go, moving forward into who they are and who they want to be.”

Some programmes offered at Youth Encounter focus on young people looking into their futures and what they look like, working towards developing the skills needed to be ready for work or bigger challenges they may encounter later in life. Building confidence and resilience so everyone can grow and develop.

TECT recently funded Youth Encounter with $100,000 towards operational costs and equipment purchases over the next two years. TECT Trustee, Peter Blackwell says that providing these young people with a space to feel included and welcome is what get’s the ball rolling for them to develop into their true selves.

“Mary, Joel and their team are dedicated to working with each individual to make them get the most out of each programme they offer,” says Blackwell, “Facing challenges in life builds resilience, but you also need to be given opportunities to learn how to learn from and grow from those challenges and Youth Encounter does this for the young people who walk through their gates.”

40 young people per week are engaged with Youth Encounter, and each person is part of multiple programmes. With energised staff, the Trust is making a change in not only the lives of these young people but also a positive ripple effect into whanau and the wider community.


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