Courage and initiative Education People

Youth agencies vital for the future of teenagers

Thriving: Dunedin Botanic Garden leading hand, Ezra Moodie

A 17-year-old who couldn’t wait to leave school, and now thrives at a full-time job, says agencies working with young people are vital to the future of teenagers and society.

“I think they’re vital because we’re the next generation,” Dunedin teenager Ezra Moodie says. “If our generation gets screwed over, it’s going to screw up the next generation.”

He points out that young people are our future leaders.

Some struggle in the conventional education system and Ezra’s story is reflective of this.

He’d hated school since his first year at primary, when he hid in the bathrooms to avoid class.

The only reason he attended was to play football with his mates at lunchtime.

“It didn’t click with me or the way I learned, it wasn’t stimulating.”

At secondary school, he liked metalwork, woodwork, music and history, but didn’t understand how to use half the science and maths in the ‘real world’, so couldn’t see their point.

He has dyslexia and says that although his brain worked out the correct answers, his teachers made him solve problems one certain way.

Ezra made friends, yet others bullied him. Now he realises that dealing with ongoing mental health and family problems probably added to his challenges.

Alternative education

By the time Ezra was 14 and in Year 10, he’d wanted to leave school for a long time. He realised he could do something about this and was determined to overcome any obstacles put in his way.

He hadn’t attended school much, and in Year 10 he didn’t show up at all. Later that year, he left to begin alternative education at Presbyterian Support Otago’s YouthGrow.

It is based in a plant nursery and he stayed almost a year, gaining some NCEA credits and valuable skills, such as how to control himself and his emotions.

Being there helped me a lot with my anger issues.”


YouthGrow staff talked with him, and instead of telling him off for being angry, helped him think about how he could productively deal with his anger.

Ezra says that his entire time there, he wanted to be working and earning a wage, so he could do the things he wanted to.

Through YouthGrow, he got an interview at the Malcam Trust for a job at the Dunedin Botanic Garden.

“I started there and I’ve loved it ever since, it’s been awesome.”

Ezra Moodie loads gravel with a front-end loader at his workplace, the Dunedin Botanic Garden. Photo: supplied

At the gardens, Ezra was a trainee for six months and has been a leading hand for about a year. He sprays weeds, maintains paths, and empties and cleans sumps and drains.

His boss, Grant, is the best boss possible.

“He’s the first boss, but I know he’s the best boss I’ll ever have. He is just the most amazing, kindest – he’s just a genuine person.

“He teaches me a lot, not just about work, he teaches me about other things.”

Ezra enjoys working outside.

“I’d rather be outside in the sun doing backbreaking work, than inside.”

Sometime in the next five years, he’d like to move to Central Otago, turn his truck into a big rig and train as a snowboarding instructor.

He says the Otago Youth Wellness Trust (OYWT) helped him find what direction he wanted to head towards with learning.

Each week his trust caseworker, Meg, visited YouthGrow to see how he was going and talk about problems he was dealing with in his life.

He says trusts like the OYWT are needed, especially regarding education.

“It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and there’s so many kids who don’t fit into that round hole.”

Asked what he’d say to other teenagers living through similar challenges, Ezra emphasises that they are in control of their life.

If you’ve got something that you know you want to do, don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it,” he says.


“It’s not the things that happen to you, but the choices you make and the places you go.”

Backlog of support needs 

One of the agencies which has helped Ezra, the OYWT, says the Covid-19 crisis is resulting in more children suffering from anxiety.

The Manager, Claire Ramsay, says that for the first time in its 25-year history, they have a backlog of youngsters needing the personal, relational wraparound support the trust provides.

“Although we’re told that we do good work, we’ve never had the amount of Government agency funding that reflects the work we need to do,” she says.

Because of this gap in funding, they need to raise about 30 percent of their income through grants and donations.

There again Covid-19 has taken its toll, as annual fundraisers such as Zonta’s fashion parade have been cancelled two years in a row.

Claire shares heart-warming tales of community support. At the trust whare, or home, almost every room is a story of local generosity, creativity and care for youngsters who are doing it hard.

Outside the Parry St building, the Otago Polytechnic and Ngāi Tahu have contributed to a new therapeutic garden where vegetables already grow.

“It does reflect that community that we grew from and want to stay connected to,” she says.

In its quarter-century, the charity has helped thousands. Last financial year, 275 children were in its wraparound service and this year to September, 304 students were supported back to school.

Helping youngsters, changing futures: the Otago Youth Wellness Trust team with their Manager, Claire Ramsay, second from the left. Photo: OWYT

As society’s needs grow significantly, Claire hopes funding will too, so agencies can continue helping young people.

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For further information:

Otago Youth Wellness Trust


Malcam Trust


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