A former gang member who tomorrow marks 40 years of helping at-risk South Auckland youth is returning to the streets in 2019, still trying to make a difference.

The Herald spoke with Sully Paea today after some readers expressed astonishment that the veteran Otara youth worker had again been snubbed in the New Year Honours.

Not that it bothers Paea, who for decades hasn't cared what others think of him.

Now, he's going back to his roots and deep into the neighbourhood of his beloved Otara, leaving behind the charity Crosspower that he launched to help children and at-risk youth 20 years ago.

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"Even though we've done quite a bit - Otara is no longer like the Wild West - there's still a lot of gaps so I've decided to get back to the street, go mobile, and connect with the kids and youth," said 67-year-old Paea.

He's become frustrated with organisations and groups parachuting into his community with well-meaning pilot programmes, only to "tick boxes and disappear once the funding runs out".

Paea, an ex-member of The Stormtroopers gang formed in Otara in 1970, wants to work with primary-age children and their families – many of whom he's known going back three generations.

It all starts with education, he says, and over the holiday period he will be working with youngsters before going to the school gates with them.

"There's a new breed of kids now that are very staunch, ruthless. They are a law unto themselves and don't give a stuff about the police, authorities. It's not good," Paea said.

"The schools do their best but there are still a lot of kids that I know aren't going to make it. They'll end up falling through the cracks: selling drugs, taking drugs, gang life.

"I want to go right back and recognise them at primary [school] level and work with them all the way through."

Keeping youngsters busy is also critical, he says, and he supports hip-hop and street dance projects, along with organised sport.

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Paea helps kids learn to fix bicycles, and for the older ones, restoring motorbikes.

"It's about restoring themselves, the before and after, a way to get my message across," he says.

A similar project involves developing Otara Creek and getting youth to help build traditional-style Pacific outriggers.

"I live here, I've seen the issues and needs over years. If we don't give youth what they need now, they're going to end up shooting each other. We've seen it before."

He's excited about being back on the streets.

"For a while, I thought I'd done what I needed to do here," Paea says.

"But when I look around, there's still a lot of challenges. Nobody is telling me what to do, I'm funding myself, and just doing what I think is right."