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September 2010
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Youth boosted to the max

Life to the Max has gone from strength to strength in the past six years, says the programme's previous team leader, Constable Ian Pigott.

The project aims to build a community organisation to help some of the most difficult young people in the region’s rural areas and small towns, including Shannon, Foxton, Levin and Ōtaki.

Ian describes the original situation as “desperate”.

“Horowhenua is a long drive from service centres like Palmerston North and Wellington. Rural people weren’t well serviced and a number of kids were falling through the gaps.”

Sergeant Steve McCarthy of Youth Services in Levin, who sadly recently died after finishing his physical competency test, helped Ian get a ground-swell of support.

Key agencies including Police, Education, Health and CYF were keen to get on board. The challenge was to get them all talking the same language.

“It was as basic as defining what we call a youth. It goes from age 10 up to 16, 17, 19 or even 24, depending on who you talk to,” says Ian.

Eventually, Life to the Max was developed to target local 10 to 16 year olds with alcohol and/or other drug problems who were showing risky behaviour, including offending.

It has three components: collaboration between partner agencies, an education programme and interventions that effectively address the issues of young people and their families or whānau.

Ian says he and Steve were lucky to have the support of influential individuals including Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft. “A few simple words from him opened big doors for us.”

Several influential people also stepped up to join Steve in governing the programme through a community trust.

“All our trustees give a great deal of their spare time for free. They have been dedicated to the trust since its inception, which is fantastic,” says Ian.

By 2007, things were taking shape. Life to the Max had funding, policies, premises at Levin Intermediate and its first employee – a youth coach with a mentoring role.

An alcohol and drug counsellor quickly followed, courtesy of the MidCentral District Health Board.

“There was no one else doing alcohol and drug work in the area, even though the majority of kids at family group conferences had these problems,” says Ian. “We’ve never had a day without people lining up for this service.”

The trust has become known locally for its graffiti and rubbish clean-up scheme, which started from a need to coordinate the community work hours owed by young people.

Life to the Max works alongside other organisations to support

Horowhenua youth. In May, they held a Youth Day in Levin’s

Adventure Park.
Photo: Supplied

Every Saturday, two part-time workers take the young people to prominent buildings in Shannon, Foxton and Levin where they clean off graffiti and pick up rubbish. Initially, the District Council stood back from the plan but is now fully supportive, reckoning its monthly bill for litter and graffiti removal has been slashed from $5000 to $1500 as a result of the work.

Ian says making young people responsible for cleaning graffiti is an effective way to reduce it. “Kids know who’s done the graffiti. I’m sure it doesn’t take long for those cleaning it off to persuade other kids to stop doing it.”

Members of the business community have helped out when asked, particularly a real estate agent who had under-used space in an office building. Steve and Ian saw a chance to relocate the trust from a prefab at Horowhenua College and found the agent surprisingly easy to persuade.

After spending nearly $100,000 on renovations, the agent invited the trust to move in at very fair rent.

“He saw the difference this work was making to the community and said he’d do this for us so long as we did our bit with the kids.”

Life to the Max now employs 14 people. Funding is sourced from 11 different agencies including MSD, CYF, Police, Ministry of Justice, MidCentral Health and various community trusts.

Recently Life to the Max become one of the first community organisations to qualify for High Trust Funding through the MSD. This means funding from government sources is pooled into one pot for the organisation to use as it needs, rather than applying for separate amounts for specific purposes.

In three years of operation the trust has had 620 referrals. “That’s a lot of kids,” says Ian.

“Some have been offered every chance and haven’t taken them – they are destined for the justice system and there’s not much we can do about that.

“A great many others have really shone. We are really proud of some of the good stuff that’s been achieved.”

He recognises the programme can’t be all things to everyone. The plan is not to broaden the service but to keep improving the trust’s work with the same niche of young people.

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