As part of the lead up to International Volunteer Managers Day (IVMD), we caught up with a few of the fantastic Managers of Volunteers here in Marlborough.
Introducing Maxine Sweeney and Soni Kula, two of the wonderful Youth Workers and coordinators of the MYTAGS (Marlborough Youth Trust Advisory Group) at Marlborough Youth Trust.
Tell us about how you first got involved with Marlborough Youth Trust
Max - I had heard that the youth group out in Seddon was struggling to find enough adults to help keep it running so I started by volunteering my time, about 3 hours on a Friday night, to help with that. Jo Lane (Manager) heard about what I was doing out there and brought me on board here at the Trust.
Soni - I was working at a winery. Jo knew my mum and when she ran into her, she suggested that I should get my Level 3 Youth Work certificate. So I did that and volunteered for a few hours a week. I built that up over time until I ended up working here.
What was your first impression?
Max - How busy it was! There is always something happening here....way more than even I knew. So much more happens behind the scenes than what is put out to the public, it's amazing!
Soni - For me, this is my first time working somewhere where I feel like I've been given a purpose instead of just being another number or cog in the works and I love that!
What has surprised you most about working with Marlborough Youth Trust?
Max - How under represented the youth are in the community. There's very little acknowledgement for how amazing they are. Each of these young people has such different talents and their own power. They just need to be given some freedom to do stuff. People always talk about "if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile" but if you give them a positive inch, they'll turn that into a really positive mile. We just recently had a young person who has been involved for a couple of years now and often just cruises along but, in the lead up to Spring Fest, they really stepped up. The night before they were here at MySpace helping out and learning what exactly needed to happen on the night. Then the day of, they were right in there helping get everything set up, knew where they and everyone else needed to be, and just did it. We gave them the opportunity to learn and lead and they took it and ran with it!
Soni - I think the amount of work that each staff member is responsible for was a bit of a surprise. People tend to think that we have a bit of a cruisey job here but there's a lot going on. What was a really good surprise was how much of a family environment this is, where everyone has each other's backs. I'd never experienced that before. As for the youth, they're constantly surprising me with their capabilities. So often they think, or they've been told, that they can't do stuff, but they can! They sell themselves short sometimes. Prior to Spring Fest, some of them were pretty down on themselves and were reluctant to put their hands up to volunteer for tasks but since Spring Fest and how successful that was, they've really proved to themselves that they have the skills and the talent, they just need to have faith in themselves and their abilities. It's a bit of the Tall Poppy thing going on where they hear a lot of "you need to do this or be that or be amazing at this" but then if they try, they get told "not like that!". We want them to do it! We want them to stretch!
What do you find most challenging about the work you do here?
Max - There's never enough time, money, or resources to do everything we want to do, but especially in the area of mental health. We have a lot of young people who come through these doors in some capacity that need some mental health support and the resourcing just isn't there. It can make things quite difficult.
Soni - I totally agree with Max. And getting the run around from some of the services that are meant to be providing the resources doesn't help. But we do what we can and help where we can.
What is the best thing to happen since you started working here?
Max - Spring Fest! This was a massive event and the MYTAGs planned and ran the whole thing as volunteers themselves. Soni and I are new to running the MYTAGs and we weren't sure how people would adapt but they've been super keen to adjust to new things and new ways of doing things and they've taught us heaps as well! They've also started to really look at the needs of their peers, including starting up an LGBTQ+ group and voting each other into leadership roles within that. They're taking on all sorts of extras that we haven't seen like this before.
Soni - Definitely the MYTAGs and how they keep growing in their leadership abilities and the responsibilities that they take on. We have a really varied group this year with quite a few creative types so they've added a new dynamic. And some of the more senior MYTAGs who have been here a year or two already have really stepped up and showed the junior ones what kind of standard is expected. They're such a great group with fantastic ideas!
What do you wish other people knew about the young people you work with on MYTAGs and in the community?
Max - I wish people could see them how we see them. Instead of trying to impose a dictatorial relationship on them, get to know them for who they are and release the expectations. Give them the strength to know who they are and they will succeed in whatever way that looks like for them.
Soni - Youth are good at moving on when they don't like things. For some people that means they look at these young people and think "oh look, can't even keep a job", but try and look at it more positively. They can keep the job, but they're not feeling it, they want to do something more suited to their interests and passions. So help them succeed! Stop throwing up roadblocks and take the time to walk beside them and love and support them.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about volunteering here?
Max - Do it! You won't regret it!
Soni - Come with an open mind. You get back what you put in.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
Max - I was a really scrappy teen, growing up in South Auckland. Sometimes I fall back into it gently.
Soni - I've been dealing with mental health struggles for more than 10 years. I'm not a tough, hard shelled person. I'm a bit of a softy.
How would your best friend describe you?
Max - Stroppy but a good sort. We get each other. We are on the same wavelength and we hold each other accountable.
Soni - Soft. Fluffy. Caring. Loyal. Big bear that the youth look at as a protector of feelings. Laugh all the time. Lion.
If you had an elephant, what would you do with it?
Max - Use if for MYTAGs break up, give rides (if it wanted to!) in the river and squirt Jo and then run away with it.
Soni - Leave and travel New Zealand with it. If it would let me ride it, then I would.