Luke Gray has been recognised as a local hero for his work supporting young people's mental health in his Whakatāne community.
The Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) occupational therapist Luke said he was honoured and humbled to receive a prestigious Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year Award - Te Pou Toko o te Tau.
The award recognises everyday people doing extraordinary things in their local hapori (communities) in the past year.
"It is a pretty cool recognition but definitely not expected," Gray said.
"I just help people work through their troubles and am there to help them through whatever it is they need."
Gray works fulltime in the BOPDHB Voyagers Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, supporting the mental wellbeing of children and young people in the Eastern Bay.
Outside of work, he is a youth leader at his church, and a participant in Future Leaders, a programme that supports rangatahi to contribute to their community.
"My mahi with Voyagers and my involvement in the community is about the same thing – youth advocacy and empowering young people to go out in the world and make a change," he said.
"Some youth don't have role models to look up to so being able to be that figure is a privilege and blessing."
With his focus continually on supporting young people's mental health, Gray was especially aware of the need for this during the Covid-19 lockdown.
He made himself available to his community for chats and worked with other Whakatāne Future Leaders to distribute boredom buster packs for local whānau which included snacks, Te Reo Māori and mental health resources and activities.
"Whakatāne is home for me, and it is my passion and desire to help young people out. To help young people discover there is hope in their lives and there is a future, and sometimes it is a struggle to find that.
"I always try to connect people with their community – give them hope and help them with their identity."
Voyagers clinical team leader Glenda Gillgren said the team there were proud.
"Luke is very well respected here at Voyagers and in the Eastern Bay community and we know how lucky we are to have such a passionate young man advocating and working alongside our Tamariki and Taiohi/Rangitahi," Gillgren said.
"Luke gives his all daily and has vision for the future of how to improve the mental health of our young people. We, as a team, are very blessed to work with Luke and I feel privileged to be able to watch Luke grow in his learning and his mahi."
Gray was one of 100 New Zealanders from across the country to receive a Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year Award.