A popular karate academy in Wainuiomata is turning young lives around, one chop at a time.
"You can see the moment when they change," says head trainer Scott MacKenzie. "When they can see they're not going to be a victim any more."
Mr MacKenzie, a former national karate representative, says word got around when he was doing his own practise of the martial art in his converted garage in 2010.
"At first it was just me, then there were a few of us, then 15. Then it was time to find a bigger place."
He found a suitable space for a karate dojo upstairs at Wainuiomata's Way of Life church.
The number of keen locals continued to grow. "We ran out of room again," he says.
Mr MacKenzie decided to move into a bigger space, and to open a combined fitness centre.
The new facility opened last July.
A project manager by trade, Mr MacKenzie's interest in youth development was sparked when he oversaw the building of a youth justice facility in Rotorua, Te Maioha o Parekarangi.
"I went from concept to fruition, through to recruitment and the first month of operation. It changed my life; it changed the way I thought about things. I realised what a difference you could make to kids' lives."
He has kept his fees low to encourage participation, and has begun running a scholarship programme. Youths nominated by local community police were able to train for free.
The change in some troubled youths has been remarkable, he says. Mr MacKenzie has received backing from boxer Billy Graham, who started the Naenae Boxing Academy in 2006.
"Billy's great. You can just call him up any time for a chat."
Mr MacKenzie now wants to expand the scholarship programme, with the help of willing sponsors. Five additional free scholarships are also in the pipeline.
"The natural problem that we have is that the people who need it the most can afford it the least, and the scholarship makes it available."
The efforts of the academy are starting to be recognised.
It picked up a community award last year, and Mr MacKenzie won a Wellington Local Hero medal.
Training fees are $25 a month for a child up to 9, and $45 a month for 10 years and over.
Anyone interested in sponsoring a karate kid can call 909 0385 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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