It might not, on the face of it, seem significant, but a casual conversation outside a fish and chip shop in Pukehina proved to be a major development for one young person.
That young person was struggling with behaviour issues and lacked confidence. Unable to make conversations and involved in criminal activities, he was referred to Youth Encounter.
Through engaging with clinical counselling, matched mentoring and group therapy, he learned about values, setting goals and learning self-control to handle his intense emotions.
While he continued to better himself by stopping his criminal activities and formulating goals for his future, there was little interaction with people he didn’t know.
“He was feeling confident in himself,” says his mentor. “However, he would hide behind me when we’d walk past strangers as if he was scared.”
After engaging in mentoring sessions more regularly, “he started a conversation with an older man, a stranger, outside the fish and chip shop”.
“He asked about his job, interests, and if it was his first time visiting Pukehina. It was a two-way conversation, which the older man was quite impressed with,” says his mentor.
His self-worth and confidence developed through not rushing and he learned he could take on life and interact better with improved social skills to take into the community and create value.
Youth Encounter, now based in rural Paengaroa, was originally established as a teen camp by Mary and Joel Wanhill in 2009 and has developed into a charitable trust that continues to positively impact the young people of New Zealand.
Its various youth development programmes use dirt bike riding as a tool for practising skills and the behaviours being taught.
Mary, Joel and their 14 staff have created an environment that accepts young people for who they are, with no agenda to change them but rather unleash their potential from within.
Young people between 9 and 24 are referred to Youth Encounter for extra support. They’re often struggling to find their purpose in life, socially or academically and are frequently seen as having behavioural issues.
Support includes group therapy, mentoring from older young people, camps, social catch-ups, one-on-one counselling, and leadership growth. Each programme aims to bring out the potential in a young person by unlocking their self-confidence, courage, talents and interests, and developing their skills to contribute to their future and society positively.
Youth Encounter works with young people who feel left out and don’t fit the mould, meaning many are interested in high-risk activities. With Mary being an ex-professional motocross rider, she learnt that high-risk activities could be used to benefit and improve your life rather than falling victim to the risk-taking desires she had when she was young.
“We see so many young people struggling because their potential has been squashed and they do not have a purpose in life, and therefore search for unhealthy or risky activities or choices to get the attention they’re craving or to feel accepted and belong,” says Mary.
By providing the journey to find their identity and purpose, strengthening their mana and finding what motivates them, Mary and the Youth Encounter team allow young people to unleash their potential in their own time and their way.
“No one’s behaviours are focused on, and we create an environment where they can join in, unpack the tough stuff and struggles they’ve encountered throughout their lives, and let them go, moving forward into who they are and who they want to be.”
TECT recently funded Youth Encounter with $100,000 towards operational costs and equipment purchases over the next two years. TECT trustee Peter Blackwell says providing these young people with a space to feel included and welcome is what gets the ball rolling for them to develop into their true selves.
“Mary, Joel and their team are dedicated to working with each individual to make them get the most out of each programme they offer,” says Peter.
“Facing challenges in life builds resilience, but you also need to be given opportunities to learn how to learn from and grow from those challenges and Youth Encounter does this for the young people who walk through their gates.”
■ Trinity Lands Ltd has committed to match funding up to $30,000 for Youth Encounter. This means that for every dollar contributed, Trinity Lands will match it, effectively doubling the impact of personal donations. Mary says the support is a powerful endorsement of Youth Encounter’s mission to empower the young people of New Zealand, who may not believe in their potential. Visit the Youth Encounter website for information on how to make a donation.