Honoured for youth work
STEPHEN Bell doesn’t have a clue who nominated him for a New Year honour, but says his appointment as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit brings about an ‘‘interesting mixture of feelings’’.
The Youthline chief executive received the honour for services to youth, after nearly three decades of working for the charitable organisation.
‘‘In some ways, to be doing the work I’m doing I’m quite blessed, but it’s been bloody hard,’’ he says.
‘‘So on one hand it feels really nice to be acknowledged and on the other hand I feel a bit bashful.’’
Mr Bell says the honour reflects the dedication of everyone involved in growing Youthline from a telephone counselling service into the multifaceted machine it is today.
These days the organisation offers youth development opportunities, an in-house secondary school and provides support services to youth in the Cook Islands via phone and text messages.
Mr Bell says the biggest learning curve in his 27-year journey with the organisation has been his own development.
‘‘When I joined in 1985 as a volunteer it was very much about me as a person,’’ he says.
‘‘I had heard about it through flatmates who were involved and were raving about the training so I thought I would check it out.’’
Mr Bell had a background in business and had been studying nursing.
He started by volunteering on the phones and performing in a group that visited schools and prisons.
He shifted his focus in the 1990s to improving his skills as a counsellor, therapist and youth worker.
‘‘Then the last 10 years have been about creating an organisation that can do great things,’’ he says.
‘‘As the organisation grew in the 90s I had to make a decision whether to carry on as a practitioner or as a manager.
‘‘And though the practice still pulls me I decided I could create more capacity for that sort of work as a manager.’’
Many of the challenges facing today’s youth are the same as three decades ago – the challenges of growing up, leaving school and learning about themselves.
However, Mr Bell says the advances in social media can help youth open up and talk more easily about what is going on in their lives.
‘‘The biggest barrier for young people to get help has always been a sense of stigma and embarrassment, so things are evolving.’’
A major focus for Youthline will be expanding digitally over the next few months.
New staff have been hired to take its online presence to the next level.
‘‘I’m really excited to see what we can do in terms of e-learning and e-content,’’ Mr Bell says.
‘‘In the next year I want to have 10,000 people connected to us through social media.’’
An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 youth make contact with Youthline each year.
Youthline chief executive Stephen Bell was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit after 27 years at the organisation.