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This week's Newsmaker is Jo Spry, who was the co-ordinator for the inaugural Junior CACTUS programme.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I've been in the police for 14 years, starting my career in Tauranga where I met my husband and transferred to Rotorua. We're a 'blended family' and each have two adult children.

I joined the police as most of us do, to make a difference and help others. I've always wanted to work with youth, hence my current role in Youth Aid and my role as a trustee on the Rotorua Community Youth Centre Trust (RCYCT).


Tell us about the Junior CACTUS programme:

The RCYCT provides a fabulous one-stop-shop facility where youth can receive medical care, develop skills, engage in extra-curricular activities or just kick back in a great environment.

The development of a Junior CACTUS programme is an extension of the trust's core business, another way to help young people develop their potential and for the trust to get more involved in the community and develop long term community partnerships.

I approached Kaitao Middle School regarding the idea of a junior CACTUS programme and the project went ahead in leaps and bounds. The programme is already being run in secondary schools in Rotorua and I thought it would be a great idea to introduce it at intermediate level.

If we talk about early intervention and prevention with youth then this is a great place to start. Ideally I would even like to see a CACTUS type programme at primary level, or a CACTUS leadership programme so watch this space.

My core role was to get the programme up and running and basically co-ordinate everything. However I'm just one of a team of dedicated people and agencies who worked really hard on this programme and I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge their hard work and input which contributed to its success.

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What were some of the outcomes of the programme?

For me personally, I observed the withdrawn, unwilling participants flourish. By the end of the programme they had smiles on their faces, they were holding their heads high, interacting with the other kids and eager to participate - which is amazing really, considering they had to be out of bed at 5am and then do hard physical exercises for an hour.

I also really enjoyed seeing the way the kids supported and encouraged one another, especially on the runs up Mountain Rd. Feedback from parents and the school has been nothing but positive, with reports of improvement in behaviour, attitudes and being more respectful to others.

I'm so pleased I was able to be a part of their journey.

Why do you think the programme works?

I think it works because the programme is structured to challenge the kids and build on their strengths, develop them as individuals and team players but with a fun factor thrown in.

The instructors and volunteers did the exercises with the kids, constantly encouraging them throughout. It didn't take long before the kids realised that even though it was hard work at times, they could do the tasks they were being set.

We deliberately created an environment where at times they were definitely outside their comfort zones in order to extend their personal belief in themselves. The fact that the kids want to do another CACTUS says it all really.

What do you do in your free time?

Surround myself with music, family, great friends and my dogs.

What do you love about Rotorua?

What's not to love?

We have the natural beauty of the outdoors, a multitude of activities available on our doorstep, environments such as the lakes, the Redwoods, fabulous mountain bike and hiking tracks, hot springs and mudpools, and let's not forget legendary Maori cultural experiences, all of which attract thousands of visitors and international athletes each year.

Even better, a lot of the activities are affordable, if not free, to families.

Tell us three things people might not know about you:

I'm the lead singer in a couple of bands - blues and covers; my husband and I were hotrod enthusiasts who regularly attended the annual Beach Hop in Whangamata - and I was born wearing 6 inch stilettos.