The Tokoroa branch of Blue Light has got the town’s young people well covered – from primary school kids through to high school pupils and beyond.
The local Blue Light team of cops and community volunteers runs, funds and coordinates three popular programmes:
- Cactus (Blue Edge): A boot camp-style eight-week fitness programme, “world-famous” in Tokoroa, held in three high schools. It involves early morning fitness sessions that culminate in “The Longest Day” – 12 hours of physical challenges topped off with pulling a fire truck down the main street as friends and whānau cheer the kids on. Twenty-five per cent of the participants are referred to the programme from Youth Aid, while others apply for a place.
- Blue Light Police Youth Volunteers: Modelled on programmes in Britain, BLPYV is a new initiative piloted in August 2018 that targets Year 9 pupils, staying with them over a five-year period. It incorporates drills, outdoor education, fitness, team building, leadership and community service.
- Blue Light Empowerment Programme: The focus is on referred, at-risk youth aged between seven and 10. They meet twice a term for team-building exercises and over the school holidays are offered positive experiences they might not get elsewhere, such as overnight bush camps.
For Constable Theo Rota, breaking negative cycles and showing alternative pathways to young people are central to his work as a school community officer in Tokoroa.
Born and raised in the small South Waikato town, he says he sees his role as a police officer and Blue Light volunteer as a way of giving back.
He joined Blue Light in 2016. “Rather than attending incidents and responding to 111 calls, Blue Light provides the opportunity to engage positively with youth, before incidents happen. Blue Light allows me to have a much greater impact in my role.”
While the occasional one or two may drop out of the Cactus programme, Theo says most of the kids thrive and for some it is “absolutely life changing”. For example, he says, one young person involved in court proceedings and facing strict bail conditions really “took to the discipline, the physical activity and the group environment and is now an enrolled army officer”.
Another Cactus graduate went on to help coordinate the Blue Light Police Youth Volunteer programme and is going through the Police recruitment process.
This month, two youth volunteers from Tokoroa are joining a New Zealand contingent competing at the Youth Volunteer Games in Scotland.
“The Scotland trip is an incredible opportunity that kids from Tokoroa simply would not have without Blue Light,” Theo says.
“There are few other programmes around for many of these youth. They develop positive and healthy relationships towards the police. When I go into schools, kids come up and do their fancy handshakes. They know we are there for them.
“If we can break the cycle and make a positive change in just one kid’s life it can have a ripple effect and flow on to the lives of many others.”
The Blue Light charity works with Police to deliver programmes and activities for young people. Now in its 35th year, there are 68 branches throughout New Zealand. Many of our members give their time to the organisation.
In the second of an occasional series on these unsung heroes, Constable Theo Rota talks about how the organisation is helping youth in Tokoroa.