Hon­oured for youth work

Central Leader - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

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.

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Ded­i­cated:

Youth­line chief ex­ec­u­tive Stephen Bell was ap­pointed a Mem­ber of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit af­ter 27 years at the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

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