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When Chris McLaren, 25, joined the Presbyterian Support Otago’s employment initiative two years ago, it was soon apparent to Co-ordinator Russell Dickson that Chris would benefit from daily one-on-one mentoring rather than group youth participation in the nursery.
That mentoring, by Supervisor Barry Brydie, saw Chris grow from a disillusioned, shy, directionless young man into confident Leading Hand focused on his next step in a horticultural career.
“I’m over the moon for Chris,” Barry said recently when it was announced Chris has secured a much sought-after horticultural apprenticeship with the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, “and proud the YouthGrow formula produced such a positive outcome for him.
“Although he had a three-year Diploma in Computer Servicing, Chris was unable to get a job, so when he came to us he was pretty down. I’ve seen him grasp the opportunities given to him and grow in confidence and ability. He’s even got his driver’s license now and he used to hate driving!”
After starting in the YouthGrow Nursery potting plants, Chris moved outside, working alongside Barry at Ross Home, St Andrews Home and the PS Support Centre in Moray Place.
“Mum was a gardener, and while I was not passionate about it I was interested. But really, it was just a job and I had no goal to focus on.
“Now I’m definitely passionate,” grinned a confident Chris. “Even in bad weather I just get on with the job.”
Chris, who worked his way up to become Barry’s leading hand and in sole charge of other YouthGrow workers, gives much credit for his success to Barry’s constant encouragement.
“Pretty soon after I started he had me setting goals, learning skills like time management, and seeing how a good work ethic could make such a difference. He wanted me to study for a NZQA unit in horticulture and I wasn’t keen. But after more encouragement I agreed and it was good to get it.
Russell, Barry and other Presbyterian Support staff helped and encouraged Chris on his journey. Lana Morrison (Community Welfare Team Leader) at Family Works helped with interview skills and Melanie McNatty (Social Worker) in compiling his CV. Chris was also quick to point out the assistance given by the Horticultural Training Institute and other industry personnel. “They have all helped me get to where I am I’m going to miss them.”
When asked what advice he would give other young people thinking of joining YouthGrow, Chris said “Grasp every opportunity. Don’t let it go to waste.”
Last year 32 young people successfully completed the YouthGrow programme. Of those, 78% went into other employment or full time study.
Image caption: Pulling that last weed from the garden outside the Presbyterian Support Centre in Moray Place, Dunedin, Chris McLaren stands tall and proud alongside his “friend for life”, YouthGrow Supervisor Barry Brydie.
For more information on Family Works Youth Grow, visit the Family Works Otago website.