Wannabe gangster changes life

Porirua youth's military makeover

BRITTON BROUN
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2010
Danny McLeod
ANDREW GORRIE/The Dominion Post

ON THE RIGHT TRACK: Former gang member, burglar and P addict Danny McLeod, who recently completed the LSV course at Trentham army base.

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Thanks to a bit of military discipline, a group of unemployed Porirua youth who described themselves as drinkers, drug takers and "bums" have had a dramatic turnaround.

Twenty men and women were congratulated by mayor Nick Leggett at the city's council chambers yesterday after completing the rigorous six-week Limited Service Volunteer course at Trentham army base.

A joint venture between Work and Income, the Social Development Ministry and the armed services, the course has seen hundreds of people, aged between 17 and 25, make a fresh start this year.

Though the participants have their hair cut short, wear camouflage uniforms and are up early each morning, the course is more focused on dealing with psychological problems, building confidence, teamwork and giving them the skills to find and stick at a job.

Danny McLeod, 19, was looking at a life in and out of jail but today he is quietly self-confident in a tidy suit and about to start a trial for a restaurant job.

His gang associations have been replaced with pride in his platoon – the Wolf Pack – which won all the sports contests against rival platoons on the course.

"I was smoking a lot of P, drinking every day and doing heaps of burglaries and hanging out with the wrong people. Getting money to pay for drugs was my life.

"Before I didn't care about anything, I didn't listen to anyone, but I was a follower, not a leader."

Put on the LSV course by Work and Income as an alternative to a jail sentence, he recalls learning respect from the no-nonsense drill sergeants, waking at 5.30am for exercise and a gruelling 52-kilometre hike – carrying a 45-kilogram pack – over the Rimutaka Range.

"[The course] changed my life heaps. I'm a lot more self-motivated, I've dumped my old friends and I don't even put my hands in my pockets any more because I'm not used to it.

"When I got out I went to town. But the next morning I woke up with a hangover and went for a run."

Sapati Ahkiong and Rachel Kini, both 19, went straight from the course into jobs at The House of Roasts.

Mr Ahkiong said a fear of speaking in public and rejection had stopped him chasing work, but his self-confidence was much higher now.

Miss Kini described the course as the biggest thing she had achieved. "Everyone's so proud and motivated and it helps you find out who you are and what you want to do."

Their employer, Chrissy Snook, said she had hired young people in the past but they never turned up to work. "These two actually turn up to work early. I wanted someone with a bit of nous and some get up and go ... I'm taking on another [from the course] after Christmas."

Of the 114 people from the lower North Island who took the last LSV course in October, two ran away and 27 others left, mainly because of injury. Those who passed had either found work, were looking, or were on courses.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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