Trust funds youth support project

Greater Green Island Community Network members (from left) Noah Scott, Ben McKenzie and Melanie...
Greater Green Island Community Network members (from left) Noah Scott, Ben McKenzie and Melanie McNatty are thrilled their Wheako Project received a funding grant of $644,859 from the Otago Community Trust. Photo: Gregor Richardson
A survey showing a large cohort of children aspiring to be "social media influencers" has inspired a Dunedin organisation to create an enriching, community-driven initiative aimed at unlocking the "full potential" of Greater Green Island's youngest residents.

The Otago Community Trust has just given $644,859 to the Wheako Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Greater Green Island Community Network.

Network manager Ben McKenzie said the Wheako Project had been building over the past two years and aimed to holistically address the needs of young people in the Green Island, Concord, Fairfield, Abbotsford and Brighton area by strengthening connections across four key domains — schools, community, whānau, and the establishment of an intentional community space.

He said the project was inspired by a survey of school pupils in the area, which showed many wanted to be social media influencers when they grew up.

"But what we noticed was that other people with access to hobbies and interests, had other ideas about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

"So we wanted to increase the experiences these children have.

"The Wheako Project represents our deep commitment to nurturing our region's young people and empowering them to thrive within a supportive, inclusive community environment."

In schools, the project would enhance peer relationships and foster a greater sense of belonging, especially for pupils facing challenges, he said.

Youth workers would engage pupils during lunchtime, modelling positive relationships and creating an uplifting atmosphere.

Community engagement efforts would also encourage pupils to actively participate in social good projects, cultivating a spirit of generosity and community involvement.

Fellow network committee member Melanie McNatty said the project's "Activate" programme would provide support and mentorship opportunities for young people to explore their interests and hobbies.

"The Wheako Project is an example of what can be achieved when our community, schools, and partners join forces with a shared vision.

"Through our collaborative efforts and leveraging the strengths of our partners and communities, we are creating an enriching environment that enables every young person to grow, thrive, and unlock their full potential.

"The Wheako Project is a testament to our commitment, to investing in the future of our youth and our community."

She said the project also emphasised the importance of whānau involvement in supporting young people.

Plans were being made to establish an intentional community space that would serve as a hub and safe haven for young people and their families.

The space would host community services, after-school activities, and accessible learning.

Otago Community Trust chief executive Jemma Adams said the trust was proud to support the project, and believed the comprehensive approach to empowering the youth of Greater Green Island would have "a lasting, positive impact" on the community.