Rawiri humbled by civic honour
Rawiri Evans is a man who loathes to see anyone waste their potential.
In his working life, and in the many hours he gives up volunteering at organisations including VIBE, WellTrust and the Hutt Valley Disabled Resources Trust, he works to make sure people with an addiction, health issue or lacking confidence get a helping hand.
For his work in community service and youth activities, Mayor Ray Wallace presented Mr Evans with a Civic Honours Award on Tuesday night.
Some know him as David, others as Rawiri, the name his Maori grandfather always called him by. Mr Evans is proud of his Te Atiawa heritage.
The former central regional co- ordinator for alcohol and other drugs is now a team leader with the Hutt Valley District Health Board's community mental health group.
He says his "personal journey recovering from addiction" fires his passion for trying to steer young people away from falling down the same paths he experienced.
"I was one of those ones who wasn't wanted at school. I went down a slippery road into addiction with alcohol."
Fortunately, in an era (the 1970s) where there were far fewer services for substance abusers - particularly youth - he was admitted to Queen Mary Hospital as a 19-year-old. He says he has been sober ever since.
"The bigger picture for me is the preventative arm of health services, rather than the treatment."
Better to head off trouble before it starts than deal with the messy results later.
If he thinks using himself as a role model will get through to a young person, he'll do it.
"I left school with nothing. Last year I finished a masters degree through Massey. On the topic of achieving things, my attitude is 'the only ones who can't are the ones who won't'.'
Born and bred in the Hutt, he says he loves the place.
"I've always believed if you want to know a community, you need to jump in and be part of it."
He started with the VIBE youth health service at a time when morale was rock-bottom after some well- publicised financial mismanagement. As chairman, he helped get it back on track and stepped down this year. They've asked him to re-join the board, which he's happy to do.
He is also on the board of youth alcohol and drug counselling service WellTrust, and as chairman of the Hutt Valley Disabled Resources Trust says the work is just another way of helping people reach their potential.
Some people with disabilities - and their families - were very "comfortable" with the former sheltered workshops setup. It kept them occupied in something useful.
Now, with a requirement to pay the minimum wage and greater effort to find the clients work and training roles alongside able-bodied people, "it's really about empowering the individual," Mr Evans says.
"One of our boys is just being put through a business administration certificate course. With a lot of support around him, he's just passed his first lot of papers."
That achievement has come as a surprise to the young man but it's what Mr Evans lives for.
While there is every imaginable substance available now to tempt today's teenagers, when in his time it was largely just alcohol and cannabis, there are also far more help agencies. It's Mr Evans' firm opinion that anyone who needs help only needs to recognise they're in trouble, and to ask for it.
Dropping the drinking age to 18 in 1999 was a big mistake, but he doubts it will ever be returned to 20 now. Political pressures and the booze industry are too powerful.
"But we can keep up good enforcement, and hammering away the messages that this is a community problem, that our binge drinking culture isn't the way to go."
He was working with Regional Public Health when the 2003 legislation clamping down on smoking in public places was ushered in, "setting an international benchmark for tobacco control policies".
Then cigarettes were banned in prisons.
"It was supposed to set off every mass murderer behind bars; it was going to be Armageddon. What happened in fact? Nothing. I think there is some room for changes to legislation [covering alcohol] that we can get through."
As well as providing voluntary support for Atiawa Toa FM, another of Mr Evans' loves is the Wainuiomata Bowling Club, of which he is president.
He says he's grateful for the understanding of his wife Fiona, with whom he has four children and 10 grandchildren. The civic award is treasured.
"I love the Hutt. It's quite a humbling experience to be recognised by your community and your peers," he says.