A Career Navigator workshop in action. Photo: Graeme Dingle

The organisation giving 27,000 children life-changing mentors

For more than two decades, the Graeme Dingle Foundation has helped tens of thousands of young people find joy and direction in life, and it might be our best shot at making New Zealand the best place for children to live.

In 1995, Graeme Dingle and Jo-anne Wilkinson kayaked and tramped from Auckland to Nelson. In every town in which they stopped along the way, they were looking to solve a problem: our country’s devastatingly high youth suicide rate. They asked the locals what problems their kids were facing, and what resources did young people need to redirect themselves?

This bit of community research turned into the Graeme Dingle Foundation which for 25 years has been placing young people on the path to brighter futures

Its first programme all those years ago was Project K. It was designed to intervene during year 10, a time in young people’s lives that’s often confusing and stressful but also incredibly formative. The values and experiences ingrained in young people at this time often affect them for the rest of their lives.

The Foundation has since expanded with four other programmes aimed at targeting kids from the moment they enter primary school through to the age of 18. One of these is Career Navigator.

“A lot of families grow up with the concept of jobs, not careers,” said Claire Baldwin, head of partnerships at the Foundation. “There’s no sense that working, or a career, is something you can enjoy.”

Career Navigator aims to get young people excited about the years ahead instead of reluctant or despairing at a potential lifetime of the rhetorical millstone. Using work experience and workshops, students in their final years of high school are given mentors, hands-on experience and the chance to meet potential employers.

On the other side of the coin, local businesses are getting the chance to meet their future workforce, and be part of New Zealand’s future.

Z Energy is one of the businesses sponsoring Career Navigator, and it’s much more than a one-off donation. “Z Energy gives us much more than just financial support,” said Baldwin. “They’re on the ground working with our team all the time.”

The mutual appreciation is evident. “We’d done a huge amount of research over the years into how Z could most helpfully power-up the future generation and lift the potential of disadvantaged young people in New Zealand under our community programme”, says Gerri Ward, head of sustainability and community at Z. “The Career Navigator programme’s purpose – to support young people to aim high to achieve their career goals – aligns beautifully with our commitment, and makes a real difference to the lives of young people where it matters most”.

Workshops are one of Career Navigator’s biggest selling points; the value of showing young people that one company can provide for several different kinds of careers is massive. For many students who see their future careers through a dismal “gig economy” lens, witnessing a workplace culture that encourages personal growth and long-term employment can be life-changing.

Employees at Z Energy range from those at your local petrol station through to administration, finance and engineering staff, all with varying degrees of education, hours, and lifestyle. Seeing that one company can provide a fulfilling career for so many people can make students in the programme more optimistic about life after school.

Two Z Energy employees answer student questions at one of the Foundation’s workshops. Photo: the Graeme Dingle Foundation

Those who went through the programme can testify to how life-changing it is. Paige, a student who went through Career Navigator last year, said that “as this programme has gone on, I have started to come out of my shell and show more of myself to the people around me… With the help of my mentor and the staff at Fraser High School, my eyes have been opened to bigger things in life, and I have gained so much. Things you never thought possible can happen if you take advantage of the help that people extend to you.”

Acer went through Project K when he was 14, and it changed the course of his life. “I was 14 and  I was naughty, hated school and wanted to drop out early. I was shy and anti-social. I only wanted to keep to myself. Then I was introduced to Project K… Tony stepped up and told me he was going to be my mentor. He saw me once a week in and out of school. Always made sure I was on track with my school work and kept me out of trouble. Tony believed in me like no one else did and because of him I stayed in school, went to university and have a full-time job as an arborist. One day I plan to be a mentor.”

The Foundation’s primary aim is to empower Aotearoa’s youth to build self-belief and life skills, helping them overcome obstacles both professional and emotional. It wants New Zealand to be the best place in the world for children. This is a difficult metric to measure, but with 27,000 children in its programmes, it’s certainly doing its part.

Companies like Z Energy want to invest in the Foundation because they see it as the best way to make a difference in the world; they’re redirecting at-risk youth into fulfilling lives and developing a future workforce that’s happier and healthier.

When asked if the Foundation will be around for another 25 years, Baldwin is unsure. The whole point of the Foundation is to disrupt cycles of poverty and addiction, so if its goal is achieved it will no longer need to exist. That being said, she knows New Zealand is only just waking up to many of the causes of youth depression rates. “I hope we’re not needed, but we may well be. We still have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the OECD,” she says.

The Foundation does what it can, and it’s grown to meet the needs of young people as they grow increasingly complicated. “The Foundation is part of the solution, but it can never be the entire solution. I’m sure we’ll transform to meet whatever needs young people will have in 25 years’ time, just like we’ve transformed over the last two decades.”

This content was created in paid partnership with Z Energy. Learn more about our partnerships here



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