Two years ago, a very quiet teen walked into Education & Employment (previously Employment Plus). She had just come from a school for at-risk youth. ‘She had a difficult background,’ reflects tutor Julie Harwood, ‘She would go into very dark moods.’ The young woman was Destiny Toopi.
Julie worked closely with Destiny, teaching literacy and numeracy, as well as life skills. ‘I talked to Destiny and said, ‘You’re actually a very bright girl, but you choose not to show it.’ Once we had that conversation, she really started to grow. There were no more black moods. Today she is kind, considerate and quite an amazing person.’
At the end of last year, Destiny graduated with NCEA Levels 1, 2 and 3. She says this will always be her biggest achievement because she overcame so many barriers to discover that she could succeed. ‘I have never felt so proud of myself.’
Destiny says the thing she most appreciated learning was social skills. ‘Before, I never really learnt to talk to people and get to know them, but with the new skills I learnt I began to make friends, and I’m leaving Employment Plus with good, solid friendships.’
As part of her course, Destiny undertook work experience at her local Family Store. She was so exceptional that the store manager asked her to come back and volunteer. She also took part in a leadership programme and helped organise a carnival during the school holidays. ‘She’s reliable, she’s trustworthy, she’s a credit to herself and I’m really proud of her,’ says Julie.
Today, Destiny’s dream is to write—she is already a poet and says ‘there is nothing more important to me than my words’. With Julie’s help, Destiny applied for and was accepted to study journalism at Unitec, where she will continue to chase her dreams this year.
‘Employment Plus has changed my life in so many ways. I’ve made friends that mean the world to me. I have found confidence and courage, and because of [The Salvation Army] I have options for my future.’
At her class graduation for 2013, Destiny gave the keynote speech, with an eloquent description of her journey: ‘We became independent and self-motivated students. What I believe our tutors taught us the most was to think creatively, have confidence in ourselves, be responsible individuals, have goals and have fortitude to achieve those goals. When our teachers were teaching us about the past, they were opening our eyes to what our future could hold. When our teachers were teaching us about other people’s writing, they were teaching us how to open our minds and write creatively and effectively. When our teachers were teaching us maths, they weren’t teaching us the number of times something could fail—they were teaching us that regardless of the circumstances there is always the chance to succeed.’
‘Everybody leaves [us] with the possibility of a better future,’ says regional manager Stephanie Wales. ‘People begin to believe in themselves because they have people believing in them.’ She adds, ‘It’s a tremendous privilege to see lives transformed.’