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Local trust helps vulnerable children see positive future

A young boy sits alone on a dirty mattress on the floor. The room is dark and dingy, with plates of mouldy food scattered around.

He is infested with lice that crawl all over his face and body. He is vomiting, covered in sores, with hives from head to toe, and his skin has turned a ghastly shade of grey.

It’s the sight Eden Cowley, Te Aranui Youth Trust’s Youth Worker, was shocked to discover when she went to check on the boy out of concern he hadn’t been in school for months.

“He wasn’t attending school, and I thought that was very unlike him, so I went to go see him at his house and unfortunately, he was very neglected, living in an impoverished house. There were all sorts of disgusting things happening in the room.

“When I first saw him in that room, I didn’t really recognise him as being the boy I thought it was going to be. As soon as I saw him, I took him to after-hours, who then referred us straightway to a paediatrician at the hospital, and he was there for about a week.

“He spent a week in the hospital, and other agencies got involved, and at the end of the week, he was soon placed into the care of a loving whānau member.

“We had to get him an entirely new wardrobe, shoes, socks, school uniform – it was a bit of a fresh start to be honest. There was new everything, including a new place to live, and he basically went to school the following week a happy, healthy kid.”

Te Aranui Youth Trust (TAYT) is a not-for-profit organisation that works with vulnerable children in the Western Bay of Plenty, aiming to inspire and challenge youth at risk to make safe and positive life choices.

This is achieved through a weekly Breakfast Club during term time, a ‘Wāhine Toa’ life skills programme in schools, one-on-one mentoring, and a school holiday programme for youth.

The trust deals with a wide range of children who may have experienced poverty, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and the social challenges that arise from these issues.

For the youth they work with, the interventions can mean the difference between a positive pathway or following a common path where domestic violence, gang activity and dependence on benefits is the norm.

Eden says while their programmes provide a sense of community, belonging, and fun for these young people, their wrap-around support beyond that helps the children see a brighter future.

“We do a lot of one-on-one work as well, whether that be buying a child clothing they need, helping with doctors’ appointments, or with the transition back into school. For so many of those kids, like that boy, they’re at home essentially by themselves for months. That support goes such a long way.

“When they are ready, we bring them into our other programmes. It gave that boy a bit more of a community, and while not all kids come from homes like that, there is a sense of being able to relate to the struggle.

Children are referred through the Ministry of Education and Police youth workers.

“Some of the rangatahi that we work with are on a pathway to getting kicked out of school, whether through behavioural issues, lack of attendance, or if they are committing petty crimes as well. They are heading towards the more extreme in terms of the needs that they have,” says Eden.

“We work under a letter of agreement with MOE and Police, and while we are not funded by either, some of their staff come and help on our programmes, so we really appreciate their support.”

Eden says one of the past year’s highlights has been re-engaging young people back into school.

“Since Covid, young people not attending school has been a significant problem, with many falling through the cracks. I am a trained teacher and have been working one-on-one with these youth, doing correspondence work and helping build their confidence to get back into the school system.

“It’s all about picking them up and getting them on the right pathway, helping them see a different future for themselves. We ask what they want and make a plan of how we can make that happen together.

“Because we are in the car with the children quite a bit either driving them to Breakfast Club or to Holiday Programme, quite often that’s where the organic conversations will happen where we will find out if something is going on at home or school. So we are always in tune with how these kids are coping, beyond the programmes as well.”

TAYT’s programmes and support work to not only build a brighter future for the young people but to help them see this bright future.

“These young people might look at their parents, or they might be in a gang environment, something slightly out of the ordinary, and they think that’s it, that that’s the expectation of how their life will be.

“Success looks so different with every kid that we have in Te Aranui, but we are constantly celebrating their successes, even the smallest ones. It’s about giving them the awhi and support where they are like, ‘I actually am doing cool things, I am improving’.

“It’s about working on their self-worth, as quite often they don’t think they can achieve what they really want to in life. It’s trying to get them to see that and support the family as well around that.”

TAYT’s work is made possible through the support of TECT funding. TECT has supported TAYT since 2010 with over $330,00 in funding.

$23,000 of that was recently approved in July to go towards operating costs. Tanya Grimstone, Te Aranui Youth Trust Funding and Administration Manager, says this funding is essential.

“TECT’s funding is massive for our work. The night before TECT rang to confirm the funding, I had this sleepless night – only people who work in this sort of stuff would really get it, but I feel responsible for the kids, the staff. Just trying to find somewhere to get operating expenses for a start is quite difficult.

“We don’t get paid a lot of money; we literally run on the smell of an oily rag.

That support is just invaluable. It meant the next day I could concentrate on what I was doing instead of half my mind thinking I needed to chase this funding; I could focus on the kids that day. It literally allows us to focus on the kids.”

“There is obviously a big need for funding with the things we do with the kids, but Te Aranui can’t operate without operating costs. I 100% understand people want money to go directly to kids, but we also need to run an organisation here.

With the charities commission, people can go online and see just how lean we are if they are interested.”

Tanya says looking to the future, the agency would like to build capacity so they can help more young people.

“We’d love to expand a bit more so that Eden is doing less of the administration side of the programmes and working more one-on-one with these young people because that is definitely making a difference – she’s getting kids back into school. Even doing it for one child is awesome, but she’s doing it for half a dozen of them at the moment.”

To learn more about Te Aranui Youth Trust, visit https://www.tayt.org.nz/.

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