Each week around 35 rangatahi decide to walk into the Lift premises in Napier. The large majority choose to come because they have heard from their cousin, their brother, their sister or a friend that it is a good place to go. Some hear about Lift when the organisation is out making a pitch in their community. A few are referred. Most are Māori, most are male and most come from challenging backgrounds. School was a disaster. Drugs have often been a solution. Mental health and homelessness are often a problem. They have likely been written off as young people who simply ‘don’t want to work.’

They walk in and meet people that they instantly recognise as whānau. There’s kai. There are people like them to talk with.

Someone from the team will come up and have a chat and soon their immediate problems are being addressed. They might need shoes, and Lift partners with an organisation where they can get these and some clothes. Accommodation can be found. If they need a dentist, there is one next door and if they are under 18 it is still free. If not Lift pays. Whichever member of the Lift team they feel comfortable with becomes their support person. Once again it is their choice. Part of the conversation, early on, is about what their dreams are in life. If they want to, they can move onto the next Bounce Life Skills course – a two-week programme that is offered throughout the year. Many do.

Lift Social Enterprise was established in Napier about three years’ ago. Jody Hamilton, who is the Director, had worked in Australia with Bounce founder Maria Smith providing life skills training for Aboriginal people and decided to bring the Bounce programme to New Zealand and make it a core part of the LIFT approach. Now they have a team of six, including a Kaumātua, Te Huia Bill Hamilton.

Graeme Ewart is the Business Manager. “The Bounce programme starts by delving down into how they have been living their lives, how they see the world, their values and beliefs. Then we start bringing them out of that reflection and move them forward, getting them to think about their future. We create a journey for them, so they can see how they can achieve their dreams, even if realising them is 20 years away they find the first steps. In the past they have always been told what to do. If you give people a stick and focus on their past, they will always look backwards: cause and effect. We give them a carrot: choice and consequence. And we do everything that we can to support a young person. Whatever it takes.”

Wherever possible whānau are involved and whenever needed a Lift team member walks alongside rangatahi if they need to go to court, get drug and alcohol counselling, or find accommodation. Most senior staff have experience working for agencies like Work and Income and know how the system works. But if the system is too slow or difficult, Lift staff sort things themselves.

Atarau Hamilton-Fuller is a Facilitator for the Bounce programme:

“On the first morning they decide how the programme will be run. We give them the freedom to make those decisions. They are in charge of themselves – and so they feel that they are there for themselves. As a facilitator I always have my whole self in the room. There has to be a level of genuineness between us. I always follow the flow. The participants are always in charge of the room.

“In the second week we work a lot around pre-employment preparation, interview practice, cvs, cover letters, wearing the right clothes. Employers come in and talk.

“About 60 percent graduate from the course. Some come in thinking they want help, but they are not ready to get help. They create obstacles for themselves. But our doors are always open, we maintain relationships, and many come back. Some have done Bounce more than once. And if Bounce isn’t right for them, we can work with them one-to-one straight away instead. They appreciate what we have to offer, we never shut the door on them. They appreciate that and keep in touch.”

For the ones that do stay the course, Atarau enjoys the moment when a customer (as they are called) suddenly understands how his beliefs and behaviour have caused the problem. “We call them lightbulb moments. You can see this little flicker in their eyes. Oh! they were right! I was doing it wrong!”

Once the rangatahi have sorted out their goals and a plan to achieve them they are supported to take the first step. If it involves employment, Lift has 65–75 employers who welcome a visit by the young person and their Lift supporter. “It is a time for a further conversation” says Graeme. “They can find out what’s involved, work experience can be arranged, or they can be told about further skills and study that might be required. Once they start work the employer can contact us if there are problems, or the rangatahi contact us. We have as many backstops as possible. They never leave the whānau. Social media keeps them in touch.”

Tyler Taurima Brown found out about Lift at a community market when she was just 16 years’ old:

“Jody approached me and asked if I knew any rangatahi who might be interested in the programme. And that was me! I had run away from home and wasn’t in school. My life was pretty off track. So, I went in on the next Monday and I had a chance to sit down and talk about my goals and do the Bounce course.”

Her first goal was to get back to school and become head girl.

Lift paid for her uniform and stationary and took her to school to meet the principal. She did become head girl and today she is a junior facilitator on the Bounce course.

“I love being a facilitator. I want to help change these people’s lives like Lift changed mine, just in the space of the first three days of the Bounce course. Finding that self-awareness, integrity and sense of belonging. That is what I was missing out on. We talk about our tūrangawaewae, the place where you belong. That is what connects us: the struggle, and then being together in a place where you feel connected and empowered. Then you can be the best person that you want to be. I am just one example of what can happen when you get what you really want.”

While Tyler is exceptional, the outcomes generally, says Graeme, are huge. Many get their driver licence and a first aid certificate. Over the last two years LIFT has worked intensively with 139 rangatahi: 81 have gone into jobs and 28 into further education.

When we spoke with Atarau, the team had not long completed the first Bounce programme after the lockdown. They only had four in that programme instead of the usual 12–14, but three went onto further education (social work training, land based training and forklift training), and two into employment at a local insulation company.

The fact that the Bounce Life Skills programme works is the key to Lift’s sustainability and future. They do have a contract with MBIE, but the fact that they have the Aotearoa licence for Bounce gives them a future source of income. Already there have been enquiries from NGOs and schools around the country wanting to have facilitator training. Currently 12 people have done the facilitator training which is provided in Aotearoa by Bounce Australia.

Hawkes Bay has the highest NEET rate in the country – around 20 percent. Lift’s vision is for 100 percent youth employment in the region and to help other regions achieve the same.