Hope for Youth

19 year old Richard credits The Salvation Army’s Aspire Programme for turning his life around when he was younger, moving him from a path of violence and anger to one where he is now able to help others.

When Richard first moved to New Zealand from Tonga with his family at age five, he found it very challenging to adapt to Kiwi life. Everything from the weather, schooling, even speaking English and trying to make friends was difficult for him, making him feel like an outsider.

As he got older he would often misunderstand things that people said or did, and would end up in trouble as a result; he grew angry and distrustful of both adults and peers.

Then a key moment in his life happened. He was selected by his teacher to join Aspire, a year-long programme run by The Salvation Army that helps youth from all walks of life. 

Aspire first began in 2015 to help young people— particularly those from lower socio economic communities who were also struggling with school attendance—to gain the confidence and skills to achieve their goals.

It’s been an incredible success to date, with over 1,000 young Kiwis aged 11-16 having taken part in the programme, which includes mentoring, a group adventure, family support and involvement in a community project.

National Aspire Coordinator, Michael Smith, says that while some children are able to follow through on their aspirations from a young age, other young people have a range of social and circumstantial barriers that prevent them from reaching for their dreams.

‘For every child that has the confidence, support and skills to face their future with confidence, others just see barriers—and they give up because they don’t see how to overcome them.

This can lead to poverty, social isolation and a future without hope—that’s where Aspire comes in.’

Richard says that he quickly realised that Aspire was so much more than just a programme to ‘deal with unruly kids’.

‘I met this awesome guy called Jon who was the guy leading the programme and a youth worker in our community. He inspired me 100 per cent and I reckon he’s a big reason I’m where I am now.

At Aspire we learnt a whole lot of skills and behaviour every week, we went on some mean trips to places like Mt Ruapehu and the Blue Mountain Adventure Centre—and best of all, we got to put everything we’d learnt into action with a community project.’

The programme also connected Richard to other Salvation Army programmes and initiatives, and helped him to build much-needed friendships with his peers.

Richard looks back on his experiences years later and says that Aspire is one of the key moments in my life.

‘It changed my behaviour and my attitude towards others.’

So much so that Richard is now a youth worker in training with the Salvation Army in Mt Roskill, with one of his roles supporting the Aspire Programme back at the school where it all started. 

He’s now completed his first year of a Diploma in Community and Youth Studies, and is keen to pay it forward.

‘I want to give back to the next generation of young people in Aspire who, like me, need an adult who is interested and cares about them.’

How Aspire works:

  • Led by experienced Salvation Army youth workers in 16 centres and schools around the country, the year-long Aspire programme involves weekly sessions in groups of 10, over 32 weeks.
  • Activities include a three-day adventure programme of tramping, abseiling, caving, white water rafting and more, led by qualified outdoor instructors.
  • There is a strong focus on developing teamwork and project skills by planning and implementing a community project to address a local issue, as well as goal setting.
  • Aspire is based on the Circle of Courage youth development model. It provides a fun, supportive environment for personal development, helping young people connect positively to others, achieve and master essential life skills, take responsibility for their decisions, and live with purpose and generosity. 
  • Social workers and youth workers from The Salvation Army work with Aspire families to provide any additional support needed to strengthen the home environment. Events are also run to better connect families together.