Programme empowering young people plays catchup

Young people are our future. But for some children, the future doesn’t seem so bright.

One local programme is aiming to change that, empowering young people with the practical skills they need to make a lasting positive difference in their lives.  

It all started back in 2011 when Stuart and Prue Caldwell, who run a local youth agency, heard about a group of 10-year-old girls who were smoking with their mothers.

Seeing a clear need for early invention to ensure these young girls could build the future they deserved, Stuart, Prue, and a group of social workers, developed the Tipu Skills for Life programme.

The strength-based programme has been developed specifically for at-risk primary-aged young people who often come from challenging home environments, supporting them to build empathy, resilience, and healthy relationships.

The initial phase of the programme runs for eight weeks, with six participants after school. Through creative therapeutic activities, participants explore their strengths, capacities, and aspirations.

The programme focuses on the topics of identifying emotions, managing anger, self-worth, and healthy relationships. The outcome is a tangible kete of life-skills which has the overall goal to help explore and create participants’ vision and ‘Future Dream’. Whanau are involved at the beginning and end with a whanau hui.

This phase is followed by one-on-one mentoring for up to 12 months for those participants and their whanau that need extra support. Mentors journey alongside the young people to encourage them to reach their unique potential through weekly activities, such as bush walks, sharing in a hobby or craft, or going to the beach for a picnic lunch.

The programme has seen incredible outcomes for the young people who once had no hopes and dreams, now able to imagine and grow a positive future.

One 10-year-old girl, who had completed the Skills for Life programme, was chosen for mentoring because of her shyness and lack of interaction at school.

But during lockdown, there were huge issues in her whanau, including an attempted suicide.

While it seemed like she was too volatile and was avoiding contact with her mentor, help was on the way. Trish, a Tipu Skills for Life mentor co-ordinator, spent time with the family and got some extra community help for the young girl’s whanau. This had a huge impact. She calmed down, met with her mentor, did better at school, and joined kapahaka.

Stuart Caldwell, Tipu Skills for Life National Manager, says the importance of their work became even more apparent after Covid-19 and the lockdown.

“The families and whanau we usually work with are already under considerable pressure around housing, food, money and many other resource issues. Covid-19 accentuated those stresses.

“It is very hard to predict how long the impact of Covid-19 will last. There seems to be evidence that our participants, 9 to 11-year-old girls, were adversely affected by the lockdown and this has increased the call from schools to request the programme for these students.

“It was a difficult year, and this is probably more evident in the demographic that we work with than most. All the girls were affected, however, this age group are very resilient and seem to have bounced back for the most part.”

The charity is now playing catchup, with three of their programmes unable to go ahead in 2020, and a huge increase in demand from schools.

Stuart says they anticipate the increase in demand to last until at least the end of 2021 before they can fulfil all current requests and backlog.

Tipu Skills for Life applied to the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund, established by local funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust, and Tauranga City Council, and was approved $17,000 late last year.

Stuart says the funding is immensely important for their work, helping them run an extra two programmes in 2021 to meet the additional demand identified by Merivale and Gate Pa Primary Schools.

“We are so grateful for this funding which is allowing us to catch up with the programmes in schools that were stopped by the lockdown. Our plan for 2021 is to run ten programmes and add 20 more girls into our mentoring programme.

“Now we are back on track, we are in need of volunteer mentors – people who are keen to help us provide positive connections for our young people so they can build resiliency and security. Our next training day is Saturday 20 February 2021 – if anyone is interested in applying, please visit https://skillsforlife.org.nz/mentoring.”


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