Manukau Courier : December 10th 2010
www.manukaucourier.co.nz Friday, December 10, 2010 Hero's a knockout Local hero: New Zealander of the Year nominee Stephen Boxer juggles helping youth offenders with being dad to eight-year-old Dawn. Photo: SHANE WENZLICK By JESSIE COLQUHOUN IT TAKES a certain type of person to work with the country's youngest criminals. You need resilience, commitment, passion and sacrifice, Stephen Boxer says. It's not just about earning a pay packet. It's not a job, it's a life.'' He would know. The director of Mentoring Youth New Directions -- MYND -- has spent the past decade helping more than 600 male offenders aged 14 to 17. That dedication has earned him a nomination for the New Zealander of the Year Award. He was surprised to receive a phone call saying he was one of 10 award semifinalists. I was like what do you mean? That can't be right. There are thou- sands of people out there doing good things, how can I be in the top 10'?'' The south Aucklander didn't do too well academically at school but excelled at sport. He failed School Certificate in year 11 and decided to change his life. He moved schools and stopped mixing with the wrong crowd. He joined the army but a back injury brought him back to his hometown of Mangere. There he worked as a lifeguard and a roofing contractor. Thenin1996hegotajobas assistant supervisor at the Mangere recreation centre and the door to working with young people swung open. He wanted to work locally and give people opportunities so he helped develop community-based programmes. I was disheartened by the nega- tive stereotypes that areas in south Auckland had. I wanted to help show that there are people out there who do good stuff and there are also people out there who can be salvaged.'' In 2000 he began working with young people, developing different outdoor programmes for different groups. Then he asked himself who were the most challenging young people to work with. His answer: Youth offenders. At the time there were no specialised programmes for teenagers committing crimes as serious as aggravated robbery, serious assault, grievous bodily harm and car theft. I knew then that this was an area that I could impact on,'' he says. He approached the police and Child Youth and Family Services and challenged them to send 15 of Mangere's worst offenders on a six- day, military-style camp in Waiuru. The idea was to break down their negative exteriors and bring out the positive, he says. And it worked. Mr Boxer and his team developed and expanded the youth offender programme over the next 10 years. The scheme now comes under the wing of the Foundation for Youth Development and helps 100 young offenders each year. Mentors work with the teens for up to six months and although they no longer travel to Waiuru they do go away on a four-day trip. Mr Boxer says it's a holistic pro- gramme that also works with the offenders' families and the com- munity. The main aim is to break the cycle and keeping the kids out of prison, he says. It's a tough job but seeing the young people's success is what keeps Mr Boxer in the game. He's heard hundreds of success stories from the kids who have been through his programme and turned their lives around. If at the end of the six months when we shake their hands if they say Thanks, but I'll never need you again', we've done our job,'' Mr Boxer says. THE SEMIFINALISTS Thirty-four inspirational Kiwis and 10 community groups have been named as semifinalists in six categories in the New Zealander of the Year Awards. Stephen Boxer is one of 10 semi-finalists in the New Zealander of the Year category. Other categories are Senior New Zealander of the Year, Junior New Zealander of the Year, Community of the Year and Local Heroes. The semifinalists were selected from hundreds of Kiwis nominated by leaders from politics, education, business and local communities, as well as by colleagues, friends and families. All have been judged to be making extraordinary contributions to their local communities, the country and often also to the world at large. Three finalists in each award category will be announced on Monday. The winners will be announced at a gala awards presentation at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Auckland on February 2.
December 9th 2010
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