Second Chance Given to Opotiki Youth
You don’t often get second chances in life but hundreds of young people in Opotiki are getting back into education thanks to an innovative support programme.
Whakaatu Whanaunga Trust helps around 80 students each semester gain new skills and pursue further study or employment by offering them a range of courses and one-on-one mentoring support.
CEO Steve Walker says the ‘Second Chance Learning Programme’ is all about removing barriers to education and fostering self-belief. Courses are offered in conjunction with Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and other private training providers, and cover industries such as hospitality, beauty therapy, hairdressing, outdoor adventure and multi-media. A building and construction course is also in the pipeline.
“They’re extremely beneficial courses because the young people taking part all of a sudden realise that education isn’t so bad, that they are able to achieve and pick up skills. It helps them develop a lot of soft skills like work ethic and changes attitudes for a lot of them.”
Steve says most participants have either dropped out of school without achieving any qualifications, been unemployed for a long period of time, or are teenage parents who have had to focus on their children rather than study.
“The second chance is really about making sure they are successful. We will do everything it takes to make sure they pass their course and ensure that the barriers to learning such as childcare or domestic violence are addressed.”
The Trust provides a dedicated mentor to help each student set goals. Practical issues such as obtaining birth certificates, passports or Real Me identity verification are also addressed.
“You need all of those things in place before an employer will look at you,” Steve explains. “Our programmes are about helping young people into a space where employers will look at them more favourably. The courses also give them a grounding and a skill they can then go out into the community with.”
This year BayTrust has provided a $31,420 grant towards the Trust’s operating expenses so the Second Chance programme can continue. Steve hopes to hire a second mentor as a result, and says the funds will make an enormous difference.
“It’s huge. Without it we would definitely not be able to provide the advantages that the programme gives to young people. It will certainly go a long way towards being able to provide this service for the whole year.”
Upskilling the district’s workforce and helping young people into employment is a major priority for the Trust, which was founded in 1990 to help locals manage and improve their quality of life through a range of different services.
“Our district is poised for huge development,” he explains. “We have the mussel farm coming on stream shortly and the kiwifruit industry has probably tripled in the last two or three years around Opotiki.”
An extra 2000 workers will be required for the kiwifruit harvest alone in the coming seasons but Steve says a range of other jobs will also be created to support that expansion.
“It’s not just about finding people to harvest mussels or work on an orchard. Sectors like hospitality, tourism and construction will all benefit so it’s about making sure our young people are ready to seize those opportunities.”
Steve believes the Second Chance Learning Programme is a key turning point in people’s lives.
“It’s hard to describe the visible difference it makes to these kids to know they are achievers. For that person to believe in themselves is absolutely huge and that’s what our support is all about. It’s going in behind them and showing them they’re not on their own.”