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Youth find answers in The Village

Using their experiences as youth workers, Pastors Jennifer and Wayne Poutoa established Carterton’s The Village an independent housing initiative to help young people with social problems.

“We are getting a lot of kids that are coming in who have lost hope,” Jennifer said. “They suffer from depression and anxiety, broken homes and people not knowing who they are.”

The pastors saw a need for young people to get access to skills needed to transition into adulthood so they came up with a plan to provide individual cabins for each on church grounds in Carterton. The ambition was to prepare each resident with individual life plans and pathways into employment, education and better health.

It wasn’t an easy path though, first they needed to convince the local community that it was a good idea.

“Some of them said, go for it, but some of the concerns were what will happen if these young people are out of control and, you know, vandalism and damage and crime and and all those sorts of things and a threat to the elderly that surround the space,” Wayne said.

But, through a process of consultation Wayne and Jennifer were able to win over the dissenters, and The Village’s first self contained cabin to house young people was placed on church grounds in 2019.

The Village then expanded with five more cabins, each costing $15,000. The local Carterton community, the Rotary club, Menzshed and local businesses also contributed resources and food.

One of the current residents is Josie. From Eketahuna, she was thrown out of home at the age of 16, and then found it impossible to find a safe place to rent.

“In Eketahuna, there’s nothing to do up there. It is so isolating.” she said. “If you don’t know people, you sit at home all day so I just spent a lot of my time losing my mind.

“One of my favourite things about The Village is the community. Just having people around. You know, I’ve met one of my best friends here.”

Aside from giving young people their own space to live, another important aspect of “village thinking” is to teach new life skills and for Wayne the gym is an ideal training ground.

“If you learn how to breathe when you’re punching a bag, you can learn how to breathe in situations that you find hard in real life,” he said.

“It’s about making sure they get some discipline and we look at the progress that they’re making physically so that they can copy and paste their progress into their emotional state and to their spiritual state.”

As part of their written contract, Village residents have to complete daily tasks to prepare them for life including cooking and cleaning, how to drive with a licence, job interviews, preparing people for their transition into independence.

Since its inception, over 50 young people have passed through the Village.

Jurnee, who left two years ago, now works in the shearing sheds of the South Island.

She still regularly drops in for guidance and a catch up with Wayne and Jennifer.

“They taught me a lot about life skills and it’s not all just physical,” she said.

“A lot of it is mental health. A lot of my problems were under the surface and I didn’t know how to deal with them, but I do now.”

Jurnee also has some sobering advice for anyone considering coming to The Village.

“Pull yourself up. This is about to get real. Be prepared for the nitty gritty to come out because you have to deal with those things in order to progress in your life. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”

    Phil Stebbing is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. He covers in-depth stories on arts, culture and people.

    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.

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