Students at community college have been reaping the rewards of an on-site counsellor, who is helping change lives for the better.
Carolynn Tipene was employed as a part time youth advisor but has since secured more hours as a Kaiarahi.
She is part of a team looking after about 50 students; young men and women who need some help finding their niche in life.
It is, she says, her role to take a holistic approach when caring for the students she sees as an extension of her family.
“I don’t look at them like they’re students, I think of them as my own.”
From helping with accommodation to lending a listening ear, her days are unpredictable and busy, and she loves every single second; well almost.
An open-door policy means students can call in to see her if they need help, guidance or just to chat.
“They are teenagers with all the problems and drama that comes with that and sometimes they feel they can share stuff with me that they find hard to do with others.
“Mostly it’s just growing pains but sometimes I hear stuff I don’t want to and this is when it gets hard”
Taking on the four day a week role in 2017, Carolynn, who had previously worked in healthcare, is Whānau Ora trained.
The students aged between 16 and 19 years old may have been let down by the schooling system, she says, and struggling with self-esteem.
Helping them grow and appreciate their potential is incredibly rewarding, she says.
“The best part is when a kid comes in here and academically, they don’t think they can do it. When they graduate it brings me to tears.
“We get them, we pick them up and put back together in a way that works.
“We’re like family here; a village.”
But breaking down some of the barriers can take time, she says.
“It cracks me up. When they arrive, you can see them looking at me, thinking ‘what’s that old lady doing here?’ By the middle of the year they’re one of my best friends.”
Carolynn’s laugh is infectious. Her natural empathy shines through and it’s easy to see why she’s a firm favourite with the students.
With some coming from difficult home environments, she is someone to turn to, someone they clearly trust.
“I represent students and support them at conferences, with Oranga Tamariki and the Department of Corrections. I get asked to do that a fair bit,” she says.
As well as covering classes as the need arises, Carolynn also puts her experience as a professional chef to good use, providing cooked lunches at the Scott Street site.
For some, it may be the only food they get in a day, she says.
“I still have a passion for cooking and the kids help prepare and with the cleaning afterwards. It’s a great way to teach about budgeting too.”
As Carolynn chats, a student comes in to see her; a young woman she has helped.
With an apparent close bond, the pair laugh and joke together, the student is clearly happy to have Carolynn on her side,
“She gives me hope, she says.