According to recent research by Auckland Council, there are almost 500,000 children and young people living in Auckland alone. That means almost 40% of Auckland’s total population is under the age of 25. This figure rises to as high as 52% in some local board areas, but either way, has the potential to give vibrancy to Auckland, if the vision and energy of those young people are channeled. YMCA Auckland’s youth development programme, Raise Up, is doing just that!

First established in 2002, Raise Up operates from five locations across Auckland, giving over 120 young people a safe and positive environment where they can individuate and test their own boundaries. The real reach of Raise Up goes far beyond that though, as the young people, or crew members, involved run drug and alcohol free events for their local communities, enabling their peers to also experience a safe environment in which to relax, socialise and achieve their goals.

Central Auckland is home to two of the five Raise Up crews, with a programme run from Mt Albert Community and Recreation Centre managed by YMCA. One of Mt Albert Raise Up crew’s shining stars is 17 year old, James Toohey, a student from Mount Albert Grammar School.  James came across YMCA Auckland through his participation in the youth self-development programme, Duke of Edinburgh, which sees students build skills, engage in physical recreation activity and complete community work. Alongside the programme, James has been part of the Raise Up crew since early 2013. As James recently reflected on his second full year in the Raise Up crew, he named as chief among his 2014 highlights the National Youth Camp help at YMCA’s iconic Camp Adair facilities in May, as well as his role MCing a ‘Food Revolution Day’ event and a Quiz Night at the centre. “I’ve loved it and it’s really helped me to build my confidence,” enthuses James.

Confidence isn’t all that YMCA Auckland has helped James with, however. James was also awarded a full scholarship to attend Outward Bound’s 21 day watch in January. “It’s awesome because a residential project is part of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and YMCA are enabling me to achieve that,” adds James.

Before setting out for Outward Bound, James’ goals were to make new friends, conquer his fear of heights and develop new leadership skills that he can use during Raise Up meetings. James says his first adventure, a three day kayaking trip with a stay at Deep Creek, was an amazing way to quickly develop trust in the people in his group. “By the end of this part, I was already really good friends with 13 new people,” he adds.

Rock climbing, high ropes, sailing and tramping followed and by the time James was ready for his solo stint, he was ready. James says, “I decided to do a lot of self-reflection and set goals for myself for 2015… I felt like during my solo, I had a productive three days and got the most out of them.” Following his Outward Bound experience, James said “Thank you YMCA for giving me this opportunity. I have made life-long friends and had an experience I will never forget. Outward Bound has changed my life and I have gained many skills to use every day. I am now well on track to knowing what I want to do in the future and none of this would be possible without your help.”

Getting set to head into 2015, James said he was “looking forward to building more confidence and meeting the new crew members we bring on... If any of them are shy, like I was, I’d like to help them, as a way that I can give back.” As well as planning more fun and safe events for young people and bringing together the community, Raise Up also hosted a National Youth Camp at their iconic Camp Adair facility in April, to coincide with the school holidays and is getting even bigger and better, almost doubling its reach with four new Crews being set up in South Auckland, namely, Otara, Mangere, Clendon and Papatoetoe.

“The camp is always such a highlight for the kids,” explains Kev Carter, Community Development Manager for Mt Albert Community and Recreation Centre managed by YMCA. “We play host to young people from other regions around the country and the Auckland crews love the opportunity to meet new people that they wouldn’t get to mix with otherwise. Bringing that many motivated and ambitious young people together is pretty cool – there are always some awesome outcomes in terms of plans and initiatives that they then go and implement in their local communities. Watch this space!”