A new online learning system currently in development will allow YSAR to remain resilient in a post-Level 4 lockdown world filled with uncertainties.
The non-profit organisation aims to enable young people to develop the skills necessary to participate and become active volunteers in emergency response organisations.
Their three-year training programme consists of outdoor education, search, rescue and emergency response methodologies, and leadership and incident management.
YSAR Co-founder and General Manager Steve Campbell says the ability to provide online delivery of their programmes was vital, ensuring training can continue no matter what restrictions are in place.
"We are in times where many are questioning traditional methods of classroom education. Covid-19 and the lockdown made us realise we need to adapt our training delivery to an online learning platform – it highlighted for us significant opportunities to explore new styles of project-based learning utilising emerging digital technology focused on visualisation and simulation.
"All volunteer organisations faced significant restrictions post-lockdown, and as the volunteer sector is predominately in an older age bracket, it wasn't acceptable to put them or our students at risk. It is essential to continue training these younger volunteers so they can prepare to transition into search and rescue and emergency management groups to do what is needed in emergencies.
"Future-proofing and adapting our service to meet the uncertain and changing environment is vital. Developing this authentic online outdoor learning in an innovative, safe way will allow us to be resilient enough to cope with the uncertainty of further lockdowns while also enabling other community groups to use our training material."
Steve says the skills students learn have a significant community impact.
"We're helping create multi-skilled young people who will be invaluable to their community. It is highly likely some of our students will go on to save lives, but they're also going to be great human beings as well.
"Students come out of it with an appreciation of the outdoors and our natural environment, but they also develop their teamwork and interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and even their values and ideals with us. It is a privilege to be part of that and their development."
The programme was initially started to address the ageing population of volunteers in the community volunteer Search and Rescue and Civil Defence Emergency Management sectors.
Since the programme was established in 2009, YSAR has trained around 450 students in the Western Bay. Many of these students have gone on to volunteer or work in roles aligned in search and rescue around New Zealand.
Delivery of the programme was put on hold in March due to the lockdown, with some training done online.
When full training could resume in June, a condensed version of the programme had to be developed to meet the learning content required for students. The additional costs for this, alongside increased venue hire and transport costs, were difficult for YSAR to cover with many funding avenues temporarily closed.
YSAR sought funding through the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund, established by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council, to help cover these additional costs and the development of the new online learning system.
Steve says the $29,600 they received is an investment in YSAR's future and its organisational resilience.
"The funding is vital for us as there is so much uncertainty out there in the volunteer and business sector. We cannot rely on the traditional funding streams we've relied on in the past.
"We don't know what is going to happen in the next 6-12 months, so it is critical we use this opportunity to build our resilience capability. We are grateful to our local funders for helping us invest in preparation for the future."
Tauranga City Council's interim Manager of Community Development, Anne Blakeway says YSAR's work is crucial for the region, helping inspire and develop future leaders.
"It's so important that future generations are skilled in and passionate about fieldcraft, navigation and search and rescue. It is life-saving work, and we know these young people are getting the best training from skilled instructors at YSAR.
"We are pleased the Recovery Funding is enabling YSAR to continue their programme in a more condensed format so students can complete their year's training. The funding will also allow YSAR to implement their new Learning Management System - a fantastic initiative which will future proof training, capability and capacity."
Applications are now open for the 2021 YSAR programme. Students must be 14 years of age at the commencement of the course in February 2021. To learn more and to apply, visit https://ysar.org.nz/resources/apply-to-ysar/.