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It takes a village…

Top to bottom: Simon Spence, Payten Te Riini, Jurnee Millward, and Krystal Baker. PHOTOS/JAMES HOLLINGS

Carterton raising hopeful youths
A new model for working with at-risk youth is receiving national interest. JEN WILTON spoke to young residents to hear what life is like in their Carterton home.

Payten Te Riini did not have an easy start to life. Gangs, drugs, and violence were part and parcel of life growing up.

Now, aged 22, he is comfortable talking about his past with a maturity that belies years of hard work and self-improvement.

He met church leaders Jennifer and Wayne Poutoa at Carterton Baptist Church five years ago.

The couple had taken over the chaplaincy, and they have been offering a range of support services to at-risk youth ever since.

The pair installed six cabins out the back of the property last year, creating a small village that offers a safe home for young people with nowhere else to go.

The cabins were funded by the generosity of the community whose donations made the project possible.

Te Riini has returned to the village after a few months away.

“This is home,” Te Riini said.

“It’s good to come home every so often and always be welcome back.”

“It’s the safest place in the whole of Wairarapa.”

There are eight young people living at the village, and Te Riini said they are more than friends; in fact, they have learned to be family.

Krystal Baker, who is in her last year of high school, moved into the village a few weeks ago after she said she was kicked out of her family home.

She said the Poutoas have made her feel loved and that she can be herself.

“I feel like I have everything I need here,” Baker said.

Te Riini has been a resident at the church on and off since 2018 and highly values all he has learned from the Poutoas.

He credits his time at the village with improving his knowledge about his Maori culture and being able to move past his old worldviews, as well as practical things such as knowing how to budget and survive in the world.

Te Riini has a family bond with the Poutoas, who he calls “mama Jen” and “big Wayne”.

He is adamant he would not be alive today without their support.

Wayne Poutoa.

Pastor Wayne Poutoa knows the difficulties young people face all too well.

He joined a gang aged 16 and was in and out of prison until he discovered education, which was the key to moving beyond that life.

Poutoa said the gangs will always be there and they try to offer options to the young people who walk through their doors.

The neighbours have been supportive and contribute where they can, with one woman making quilts for each of the young people that they can take when it is time to leave.

This village model and the support offered is unique within New Zealand, and Poutoa has connected with others who want to replicate this way of working with at-risk youth.

While they have achieved positive results so far, the need is great, and Poutoa fields calls every day with requests to house and support young people in the area.

He plans to expand and add extra cabins so they can keep up with the demand.

Jurnee Millward, 21, lived at the church for several years, including six months in a cabin once the village was established.

She says she had nowhere else to go when she arrived, but with support she turned her life around and was able to find a job.

Millward moved out in August and now lives with her partner in their own place.

Recent village arrival Simon Spence, 27, has health problems that make full-time work challenging.

He has worked in a cafe but found there was too much pressure, and he ended up taking that stress home with him each day.

He would like to offer cooking classes to the other residents so he can combine his dual passions of cooking and helping people.

He said he has loved his time at the village so far and enjoys mentoring some of the younger boys and helping them with their homework.

He also helps out with other jobs around the property, including shifts on security to make sure everyone stays safe.

Te Riini still has some nervousness about the future, but says he feels more motivated now than ever before.

With the Poutoas’ support, he is working towards getting a driver’s licence and plans to work in the construction industry.

“They will do everything for you, but you’ve got to do your best to help,” Te Riini said of the pair who have helped him come so far.

“If you’re here to move forward, you will move forward.”

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