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Making a difference . . . Hokonui Huanui lead Lisa McKenzie gives an update on the progress of the project on Wednesday to guests which included Minister of Children Tracey Martin. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

Minister of Children Tracey Martin is enthusiastic about the progress being made by the Hokonui Huanui project.

The project aims to ensure children and young people have the skills and wellbeing needed to take up jobs when they leave school.

At an event last week at the Maruawai Centre, which Mrs Martin attended, Hokonui Huanui lead Lisa McKenzie spoke about how the project had developed in the past nine months and outlined plans for the future.

Other groups partnering with the project including the Hokonui Runanga, Eastern Southland Community of Learning, Gore District Council, Gore Health, Gore Police, Southern REAP Eastern Southland and the Community Networking Trust were represented at the event.

Mrs Martin said the wholistic approach the project was taking to help individuals and families was a “no-brainer”.

“What an amazing job you have done,” Mrs Martin said.

The desire to do something about a problem was part of the “New Zealand psyche but I’ve never seen it done as well as that.”

She was impressed with the many different community organisations involved in the project.

“This place is really hooked up.

“It is obvious how tight this community is.”

She hoped the project would prove to be a successful model “that other communities could pick up and run with”.

In April last year, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced a Provincial Growth Fund grant of $2.1million for the project.

“I will go back and tell Shane [Jones] that is money well-spent,” Mrs Martin said.

Hokonui Runanga cultural adviser Matu Coleman-Clarke opened the afternoon’s programme with a mihi whakatau (welcome).

Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said the project was a journey that would go on for a long time.

“I know there will be a lot of benefits brought to this community, not just now, not just in the immediate but well into the future and so often when initiatives start they are treated as sprints whereas we know this is a marathon,” Mr Hicks said.

Mrs McKenzie said life was travelling down a road.

“A little bit like a journey on a highway. Something lands in front of you that you weren’t expecting and you’ve got to work out how to go through it, or around it or over it,” Mrs McKenzie said.

The role of To Huanui (Your Highway) staff was to work with young people and their whanau, to support their journey to adulthood and help them overcome obstacles which might include not having a curriculum vitae, driver licence or the confidence to attend a job interview.

“It’s about doing what they need.”

As part of the project, Southern REAP Eastern Southland runs a Drive My Life programme which helped people achieve a full driver licence.

Southern Reap manager Dawn Brocks and programme co-ordinator Jonelle McDowall spoke about the programme which had 70 people taking part so far.