27 Mar Helping young people beat adversity
Rolleston youth worker Courtney Forrest, 29, works to support and help young people overcome major struggles in their life. He spoke to Georgia O’Connor Harding (Selwyn Times).
What does a normal day look like for you?
It changes everyday. Hope Youth Trust is the agency I am part of and that is part of the Hope Presbyterian Church. We have three active sites happening in the south-west side of Christchurch. That is Hope Hornby, Hope Rolleston and Hope West Melton. Specifically in Rolleston I am paid full-time and I work in Rolleston School with year 7 and 8 and I work in Rolleston College.
What does your role involve?
The biggest role we have is to support the staff and students in the local settings we are in. In the local college and the local school. Day-to-day, we do a lot of in-class support. Getting alongside those students who are struggling. A lot of emotional support, pastoral support or conflict as well. Working through conflict with staff and students to brings them back to that restorative behaviour. It can be quite tricky. We go into the schools and go “where do you see us working well”. We do leadership development and we run leadership programmes for years 7 and 8. We also help out with leadership, like the school leaders at Rolleston College which has been evolving over the last couple of years. I have been in Rolleston School since 2009 for 10 hours a week. It is a three-way local trust relationship. The district council financially supports the work we do in local schools. We don’t call ourselves counsellors, we don’t call ourselves teacher aids. It is the kind of wrap around support I guess.
Have you found the students have embraced the work you are doing?
Yes, just the other day there was a boy struggling to fit in. He had a meltdown in the classroom so I was just working alongside him. Quite often it is what is happening around home as well. It is offering that support. Often we do outside-of-school mentoring. We build relationships with the family of those kids who are a little bit on the edge and say ‘hey, how can we support?’ We also work alongside the counsellors to help support what they are doing, and speak the same language if we can. We have got that personal relationship with the young people whereas they have got the more professional relationship.
How do you find the right answers to the difficult issues?
We follow the youth code of ethics if there are big issues going on. We are connected with counsellors. We have a counselling service based in Hornby we can refer them onto and get advice. That is big benefit for us being part of a youth trust. We have that kind of professional support as well. A couple of boys had depression and my role has been going along to the doctor supporting them and going ‘it is okay we are here to support you and we will work really hard at getting you the help you need’.
Is it difficult to get people to open up?
It is about positive reinforcement, saying ‘thanks for letting us know, that is really brave of you, we really want to get you help. You’re not weird or stupid’. We have all had struggles we have had to work through and that is the beauty of our work.
Why did you decide to become a youth worker?
Just to give you a little bit of background: I have done a Bachelor of Business at Massey University. Over the last 12 years, I have been involved in a paid capacity and volunteer capacity of getting alongside young people in youth communities. I guess I have just seen the real value of having strong role models in my life.
I guess what gets me out of bed in the morning is making a difference for boys and girls who don’t have those strong role models in their life, where their parents may be absent in their life. To see them succeed and develop and become a really awesome young person and to take opportunities that come. I get a real kick out of that. I have done accounting, I was in that corporate environment. I just couldn’t sit behind a desk for nine hours a day. I really wanted to get out there and make a difference in people’s lives.
Has there been anything significant in your life you have been able to share to help other people going through difficult times?
I guess I come from a broken family. My parents separated when I was a teenager. I see a lot of that. My dad wasn’t a strong positive role model in my life. I guess coming out of the other side of that and going ‘what have I learnt and what do I hold onto?’ I think that has been a huge thing; to have been able to relate to those whose parents are separating. To feel their pain and feel their hurt and being shifted from one parent to another throughout the week and what that entails as well. Quite often kids are left right in the middle of that with a whole lot of things happening around them. Kids are right in the middle but not cared for. That is where I have come in and said ‘hey, I will support you, I’ll journey with you and care for you as much as I can’.
What are the biggest issues in Rolleston?
With the population growth the town hasn’t been able to catch up. Things for young people to get involved with and do, there hasn’t been that. It is starting to happen at a faster pace. For the first three or four years I was there, young people were really bored because all that was here was the skate park. We run a Friday night youth night as well, so that is something we have worked hard on. It is for intermediate and high school students and we have a team of youth leaders who run high energy activities. But also for high school, there’s more of that mentoring and trying to build a sense of identity, community and relationships.
How have you found working in Rolleston College?
This year especially I really think the culture is starting to build. Last year everything was so new. This year, they have got some good policies in place and I think there is so much the young people can partake in.
What needs to be done to improve Rolleston?
I have spoken about this with district council people at a community level. Now that we have got a college, where do they fit in in terms of employment? We have got a massive Izone Business Hub here. Year 12 students and year 13 students as they arrive to the college- how do we transition them well into the workforce and what work opportunities are there? I don’t think that has really happened yet. How can we provide a good strong pathway for these young people to get into a workforce?
How long have you lived in Selwyn?
I moved here at the beginning of 2013. I love the family spirit of the community. Just walking down the streets and catching up with young people – that’s special. It is growing but has still got that small, intimate setting I believe.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy running. I am a bit of an active relaxer so any kind of social sport. I have done three marathons and I am training for my next event. I am looking at doing the Rotoroa Half Marathon 2018 in May.
What has been the most inspiring part of your job?
I guess in our youth work we have had some pretty long serving people. It can be seen as a bit of a short term kind of profession. When I have wanted to throw it in I have thought about them. They have been through all seasons that has continued to keep me grounded, focused and finding purpose in what I do. There are people who have been doing it 20-30 years and I go wow, they believed in that youth work. They believed in that profession even though it hasn’t been hugely or widely appreciated.