Apopo offers safe haven for youths

By Laurilee McMichael

Jodi Manuel is not a "what if" person.

So when she began wondering what might happen if she had a place for young people to come she decided to do something about it.

She set up Apopo, a drop-in community centre for young people in Taupo, which offers a place where they can study, talk, be with others and be themselves.

And, despite not receiving any help from central or local government, Apopo, which means tomorrow, is a success.

Ms Manuel was working as a youth drug and alcohol counsellor when she decided to start Apopo.

"I found an hour a week counselling didn't make much difference to [youths] ... I always used to think, 'I wonder if you had a house where you could offer all of that?"'

Now, she has about 25 young people visiting Apopo each day and around 300 on her database.

There is a living room with pool table, couch and PlayStation, a well-stocked kitchen, vegetable gardens and a garage that's about to be converted into a gym.

Upstairs is an art room, a room for correspondence students and a bedroom for emergency stays.

"We have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs and some of them don't have the nicest home environment," Ms Manuel said.

"A lot of them will describe it as a safe place to go. They're able to be themselves here."

Rogue Karaitiana, 17, said she came to Apopo "to let loose" and to talk about her problems.

She said being at Apopo kept her out of trouble and all the youths listened to Ms Manuel.

Another young woman said Apopo had changed her.

"Before I got to Apopo I was a really naughty girl. I never went to school, I was doing drugs, I was an alcoholic and I was getting into a lot of trouble.

"If it wasn't for Jodi and Apopo I wouldn't have a safe place to go to."

Funding is always a problem, as Apopo's only income comes from grants or donations. But Ms Manuel said she wasn't in it for the money.

"It's not a job for me, it's a way of life."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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