A 7-year-old who tried to set fire to his primary school and an intermediate student who committed 46 burglaries are some of the Western Bay children who have turned their lives around with support from police and a local youth charity.

Police youth worker Sonny Walker works with about 50 families in the Bay with children under 14 involved in low-level crime such as shoplifting, trespassing, breaking into schools, houses and "generally being menaces".

The police youth team works alongside Te Aranui Youth Trust, one of the beneficiaries of a charity lunch today, which helps at-risk youth by providing camps, mentoring and other programmes.

Te Aranui trustee and lunch organiser Lavina Good said the average age of children the trust worked with was 12, with some as young as 7.

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"These are really at-risk kids who, if we don't help them get off the path they are on, could easily grow up to inflict serious crime in our community.

"One minute it's just a menace kid in the neighbourhood, but a few years down the track that kid could be burgling your house or dealing drugs."

Walker agreed early intervention prevented children escalating to serious crime.

"It can be as simple as getting them to school, because if they are not at school and they are hanging round with the wrong people, that is when they get up to no good."

If there were barriers to getting to school, Te Aranui would help with uniforms, lunches, shoes, "whatever it takes", he said.

"Get their boys out of bed, make sure they have food in their stomach, got lunch and shoes on their feet. The right school uniform from head to toe ... making sure they've got to school at all.

"These kids might not be getting good examples of behaviour at home - being exposed to drugs, alcohol and violence. We don't discriminate who we help - one kid I'm helping now his grandfather is a well-known gang member and other family members are patched, but I can still go in and build a relationship."

He has built such relationships with many Bay families over the years.

To help the 7-year-old would-be arsonist, Walker got the Fire Service to work with him, and the young burglar was encouraged back to school and to take up sport.

One woman grateful for the help from Walker's team and Te Aranui is Merivale mother of six Nicky, who did not want her last name published.

Her sons, now 13, 17 and 18, have all been supported by Walker, who met them five years ago when the older two boys were being "menaces".

"They were getting into trouble at school, not going to school, stealing, fighting, breaking things."

Nicky said Walker used to turn up at the house each morning to make sure they got to school. One day he turned up with shoes and another day he brought his tool kit to fix up a bike.

The boys attended Te Aranui programmes and learned sport, haka, driving skills and horse riding.

"They supported them big time ... If they were driving me crazy, they'd come and get them. It was a relief that I had someone that was actually there to save these kids. And not just my kids, but other people's kids," Nicky said.

From being a petty criminal, Nicky's 17-year-old now wants to join the police, and her 18-year-old is a local surf lifesaving volunteer.

Nicky said their lives could have been very different without the support of Walker and Te Aranui.

"I tried my best with them but I was tearing my hair out ... it's difficult in the hood when they started hanging out with some people and going to parties and things ... I'm so proud of how they have turned out."

Ladies Long Lunch

The sold-out Ladies Long Lunch is hosting 300 guests with a five-course degustation of rescued food in a marquee at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.

Money raised from the Ladies Long Lunch will help Te Aranui fund its mentoring programme, Te Ara Poutama, to help youth offenders and youths in danger of offending, as well as school holiday programmes.

Te Aranui Youth Trust

Te Aranui Youth Trust works with young people 14 and under in the Western Bay of Plenty to resist negative influences and guide them to positive pathways.

Works alongside Police Youth Development programmes.

Receives no government funding and is funded through donations, sponsorship and community funding.

Made with funding from