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From motorcycles to mentoring

Taofiga Manesa, 17, [left] holding his new restricted driver’s licence. Driving mentor Aaron Slight sits beside him. PHOTO/MARY ARGUE

Assisting Wairarapa youth from the passenger’s seat
Safely navigating through life’s many roads

Mary Argue
[email protected]

Strapped into the driver’s seat, his dad sitting stoically beside him, a 13-year-old Aaron Slight began learning to drive.

It was Masterton in the ’60s, a different time.

Fast-forward a few decades, a professional motorcycle career, and the roles have reversed.

These days, Slight now finds himself in the passenger seat, helping young people navigate life’s literal and metaphorical roads by volunteering for the Community Mentor Driver Programme [CMDP].

The CMDP is a driver mentorship programme geared towards students who need a helping hand getting their licences.

Once a week, the vocal road safety advocate heads down to Masterton’s Makoura College, buckles himself into the passenger seat, and is taken for a spin in a bright-blue Mitsubishi.

While Slight has brakes in his foot-well, the Makoura students are behind the wheel, their hands strictly at 10 and two.

Founder and Wairarapa Road Safety Manager Bruce Pauling said the CMDP was all about breaking down barriers to access.

“There are kids at the school who might not have access to a car or to someone who can teach them to drive,” he said.

The programme is for them.

Seventeen students at the college are being mentored in one of CMDPs four training cars.

One graduate of the programme is 17-year-old Taofiga Manesa.

After recovering from a nasty broken leg, Manesa sat and passed his restricted a few weeks ago.

Although the achievement is not something he’s likely to share himself, being very humble about his success, he’s more than happy to shout praise when speaking about Slight.
“He’s the man!”

Manesa maintained that Slight and CMDP were the reason why he held a shiny, new, restricted driver’s licence.

Learning to drive has also meant he could attend training and appointments as part of the school’s career development programme.

He’s still undecided about his future but is tossing up becoming either a barber or a builder. Regardless of which path he takes, he knows having a licence will make the journey easier.

Pauling said employability was a key reason they brought the driving programme into schools.

The programme, which has been in full swing since mid-2017, is primarily about producing safe drivers, but it also helps students get jobs and avoid the justice system.

Pauling said younger drivers were still over-represented in driving statistics. A position supported by 2020 data from New Zealand Police.

Last year, legal action was taken against more than 1000 15-19-year-olds for regulatory driving offences. In Wairarapa, 20 per cent of all secondary and tertiary students drive themselves to class.

Although a big fan of road safety, Slight said his role extended beyond ‘just’ driving, with his role as a mentor meaning there were times when the car doesn’t leave the car park.

“I can read people pretty well,” he said, recognising when students need to talk about things other than road safety.

“It could be about anything, what’s going on at school or home.”

When this happens, he lends an ear and advice where he can.

Manesa found chatting with Slight also helped him relax behind the wheel, pushing all his nerves aside.

It would seem mentoring is not just beneficial to learner drivers either – it’s equally rewarding for the mentors.

Slight recalls watching Manesa walk into the licensing office on the day he passed his restricted. It was a significant change from the young man he had first met.

“He went in with his head held high. It’s amazing. His confidence has just grown.”

And for Slight, that’s what it’s all about – giving kids the confidence to navigate life’s roads.

Pauling said the rapport that develops between the students and volunteer mentors was something special.

“Having that relationship between an older person and a younger person, that communication, it’s important,” Pauling said.

“We are lucky to have Aaron, as we are with all our volunteers. They are the lifeblood of the programme; we can’t do it without them.”

Pauling said the programme was always keen to welcome more mentors because the CMDP reached far beyond Makoura College.

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