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YES graduates discover volunteering changes lives – Hurunui Council

Brandon Johnson (18) never thought one day he would be fighting fires.

The Hurunui College head student is one of 16 young people from Hurunui who graduated recently from the Youth in Emergency Services (YES) 2023 programme.

The graduation ceremony, held in Hurunui Council’s Chambers, underline three months of volunteering with an emergency service following the successful YES Camp held in July for Hurunui youth aged 16-19.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Brandon said. “I’ve gained lots of different experiences and skills, from using fire hoses and extinguishers to helping our community through installing fire alarms.”

Brandon volunteered with Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) in Amberley. It’s his first taste of volunteering and he is looking forward to continuing with the brigade. With his hobbies “all outdoor stuff, like hiking and target shooting”, the wellbeing benefits of volunteering came as a surprise.

“Previously, I wasn’t social with the community, and I actually felt stronger and better helping out, which I didn’t expect.”

Callum Alexander, Group Operations Manager at Hato Hone St John, said volunteering worldwide was increasingly becoming a “luxury item” that people didn’t have time for. “Volunteering is going through a tough time worldwide and is less and less in the forefront of people’s thoughts – and here are some amazing young people who are giving back to their community.”

Hurunui Youth Councillor Sam Bush was instrumental in making YES Camp 2023 happen after a five-year hiatus due to Covid and funding cuts, taking on the portfolio and a lot of the planning. A long-term volunteer with FENZ in Waiau, he has attended a range of calls from fighting scrub fires, and attending medical events and motor vehicle crashes. “I’ve met many great people and volunteering has been an opportunity to give back to a community who gives so much to help out when times are tough.”

The awards were presented by Hurunui Mayor Marie Black, who acknowledged the graduates’ individual and collective successes. “You stepped into a place where you felt internally challenged. Increasing your community connection, acquiring a new range of skills, increasing your confidence, self-esteem and being motivated for civic participation – these are qualities of leadership that will support you in the future.”

Hurunui Youth Council Chair Millie-Jane McIlraith, who was “Camp Mother” at Yes Camp, said the youth council had contributed funding towards making the camp possible. Attending the camp gave her an understanding of its value. “We talk a lot about the future generation and how they will bring forward change. Attending Yes Camp, I have no doubt this generation will bring about a bright future.”

Hurunui Council Youth Team Leader Jo Sherwood acknowledged The Rātā Foundation for making extra funding possible.


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