After a difficult childhood and flunking out of high school, Mokoia Kaea-Rata is on the first step of her career ladder thanks to a Bay mentor programme that is changing young people's lives.

"You know you are not on the right path if you are doing the same thing every day and getting the same results, it's pointless," she told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

Posing for a photograph in the warehouse at Comvita, the 20-year-old joked with a colleague and said initially she had done lots of little jobs around the health products company based at Te Puke — on a work experience project through Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust — before securing fulltime work.

Read more: Expense sinks school swimming lessons


"I did bits and pieces while getting mentored and it was all part of a bigger plan to make me familiar with the whole place, which was cool."

However, after making a big impression with her positive attitude, the 20-year-old was seconded into the quick pick and pack department after the supervisor "saw something in me".

"She said 'would you like a job out there?' and I said 'I'd love a job' so she said 'All right we will see how it goes'."

The rest is history, as Ms Kaea-Rata celebrates a year at Comvita where "we all get along and the communication is really good, which helps the workplace". She also had some reassuring words for any of her peers who may be struggling, and shared the fact many of her years were spent bouncing backwards and forwards from her mum's to her nana's and other whanau members' homes.

In some Maori families drinking, smoking and doing drugs were "their normal" and "mine was the same but different", as she witnessed those occurrences.

"It is kind of weird when you step out of that normal and are still living in it. Personally, coming to work is completely different to home, it is hard trying to figure out the balance. I think I am in that transition."

A resilient personality and the fact "I knew from the get-go I would do something" had stood her in good stead, she said, and accepting help was a no-brainer.

"When you get an opportunity take it ... and follow what makes you happy the most because that is literally what I did."


The former possum trapper, beneficiary and limited service volunteer (Winz) Defence Force graduate had found her happy place, she said.

Comvita chief corporate services officer Patrick Brus said the company was always looking for talent and the Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust was doing "a fantastic job".

"Mokoia had a bit of a rough start and it's about us providing work experience," he said.

"That sort of moved from work experience in one job and we needed help in the warehouse so she moved in there and has become the star. Now she has a permanent job.

"I am a great believer that anyone can do anything given the right set of circumstances with the right people and some support."

Comvita had grown about 35 per cent in 2015 with similar growth expected this year.

It employed just under 500 people globally and 200 at its headquarters in Te Puke, he said.

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust social services director Tommy Wilson said its youth mentoring programme was designed to "create champions".

Mr Wilson said he had done a lot of things in his life "but this gives me not only pride but it mirrors hope and I have a smile wider than the Wairoa River".

The organisation helped at-risk kids from dysfunctional families, he said: "What we try to do is pull them back into where they belong and create champions within the community.

When they go back into the community their mates go, 'wow you have a car!' and they say, 'I have a job'."

"That echoes right through the community, just like kids hear the bad news they also share the good news and that is really important for this programme."