Young people step forward for Wellsford Rise Up festival

Mel Torkington, right, with Julianne Cunningham, 17, who is going to sing a song by Six60.

Wellsford young people will find their voice at the youth-led Rise Up festival on October 19, with an open mic session among the featured activities.  

Te Waka service manager Mel Torkington says the kids have taken the lead in organising the event and she is appealing for artists to join them in live demonstrations to add to the atmosphere.

“We are going to have fires and marshmallow toasting and a performance component, with the kapa haka group from the college, and we are inviting local artists to do live works,” Mel says.

There will also be information stalls on topics such as youth services, drug-free education and general health.

Mel says she is encouraged by the way young people who have come through Te Waka’s social service have stepped up to leadership.

“Some kids are natural leaders and are almost turning into mini-social workers, which is gorgeous.

They share knowledge and skills they learn from here, and the message that wider social change is what you really want.”

Mel says the key to Te Waka’s success has been providing a space that young people feel is their own, not somewhere they come to be fixed.

Plans in the works include installing a basketball hoop and a boxing bag so that kids can vent frustration in a constructive way, and a graffiti wall so that they have an outlet for creativity beyond Mel’s whiteboard.

The aim is also to introduce a weekly youth group session to help provide young people with skills in mindfulness and emotional regulation.

“These are all projects that would have been done sooner if there was more than one me,” Mel says.

In July, Te Waka’s youth were declined a grant for the second time from the Ministry for Children, because it decided the “need was unclear”.

But since starting the service in April 2018, Mel says the demand for the one-on-one and mediation counselling services she provides has far exceeded capacity.

“There is clear gap in services in Kaiwaka, Mangawhai and Wellsford, which is like an island in between Whangarei and Auckland.

“These kids are already marginalised, and they won’t catch a bus to Orewa to access services if they are depressed or self-harming.”

Mel does her best to bring services up to Wellsford by providing a space where organisations such as Te Ha Oranga can organise meetings.

“Nobody is doing a thorough investigation of the need in this area. It’s all going under the radar because it happens up in the hills and nobody knows about it until teenagers come and talk to me.”

A ‘friends of Te Waka’ donation subscription is in the works, and those interested in knowing more about how they can help should follow the Te Waka Facebook page.

The Rise Up Youth Fest will be held at the Te Waka Youth grounds, 72 School Road, Wellsford, from 3pm-8pm. All welcome. 

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