New centre seeks positive outcomes for youth

Mel Torkington says she has already received a lot of support setting up Te Waka Youth.

A new youth centre offering a range of support services and activities for young people and their families in the Wellsford, Mangawhai and Kaiwaka area is opening in Wellsford on Monday, May 21.

Te Waka Youth is based in a cottage at the rear of Coast to Coast Hauora Trust at 72 School Road and is primarily aimed at young people aged from 11 to 26. The trust has provided start-up funding for the venture, as well as premises that were previously used by North Tec for horticulture courses.

The new service is being set up and managed by social worker Melanie Torkington, who grew up in Leigh and is keen to fill a gap in youth support in the region.

“I’ve always been really passionate about Wellsford and the wider area and filling in some of the service gaps up here, making sure that all kids have access to the necessary support, services and life opportunities, regardless of isolated location or any other circumstances,” she says.

“There are a lot of amazing professionals in the area – public health nurses, teachers and principals, and other community workers – but youth-focused and centrally based service provision is a gap that has been recognised for some time, which has put a strain on many of these other roles.”

Melanie says Te Waka Youth has been designed and set up as a place specifically for young people and their families where they will always be welcome, whether just to enquire and use the space, attend group activities or seek support, mediation, counselling or therapies.

“This is their space. Their place for belonging and healing. In all our work it is really important that it is youth-led. They will be the centre of all decisions that get made for and about them, and the space and the service provision is all part of that,” she says.

Organised activities will start with a young women’s empowerment group and a ‘Homework & Hang’ group after school. Young people will be encouraged to express themselves at a mural workshop or on blackboard walls and, in time, Mel intends to develop programmes in gardening, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and trade skills, utilising the community gardens, workshops, and potential market space on site, as well as local mentors.

“Sometimes with teenagers, it’s just a matter of redirecting them,” she says. “You can’t stifle that energy and creativity. It’s about giving them awareness of their strengths and giving them an outlet, one that will result in the positive outcomes they want, not consequences that they don’t.”

The name Te Waka is inspired by the maori proverb “He waka eke noa” – we are all in the same canoe, without exception.

“We are not designed to exist in isolation, without others to prop us up and remind us who we are, when we need it,” Mel says. “From being local and having worked in this area, I know there are people who are disconnected from support systems, and others who have skills and excess resources who want to give back and share. It’s about building inter-generational relationships and also healing generational cycles, so that rangitahi are choosing the lives for their future families, not just sticking with ‘all they know’.”

Te Waka Youth is currently running a competition for young people to design a logo for the new centre. Entries close on Friday, May 25 and anyone aged between 11 and 26 can submit a design. The winner will get a surf lesson for four people from Summer Sessions of Matakana, and their design will be used for all marketing and signage.

Info: Mel Torkington on 027 643 1517, or Te Waka Youth on Facebook.

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