The success of one of the longest-standing youth councils in New Zealand

The Stratford District Youth Council has been running since 2003 – longer than some of its elected members have been alive.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff
The Stratford District Youth Council has been running since 2003 – longer than some of its elected members have been alive.

Gareth Power-Gordon has spent much of his working life in Parliament and is currently a policy advisor for the Nelson City Council, but he got his start at Taranaki's smallest district council.

In 2005, Power-Gordon's last year of primary school, he joined the Stratford District Youth Council.

“I owe the youth council a lot,” the 28-year-old said.

The Stratford District Youth Council is still going strong – it's one of the oldest surviving youth councils in the country, and the only remaining one in Taranaki.

New Plymouth had one, and South Taranaki had Rangatahi United, but both have since disbanded.

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The Stratford branch’s nearly-two-decades of success is put down to the youth and district councillors working together.

Co-chair Alena Hojdelewicz likes how youth councillors can speak directly to the council.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff
Co-chair Alena Hojdelewicz likes how youth councillors can speak directly to the council.

It's currently made up by: co-chairs Alena Hojdelewicz and Keisya Gunawan, secretary Achim Hanne, and councillors Harmony Hanover, Connor Giblin, Brooke Hereora, Ciara Staines-Hurley, Emma Steele, Taleesha Kelsen, Taylyn Kelsen and Victoria Payne.

They host two meetings a month, which run like a local government meeting – there’s an agenda, confirmation of minutes, a public forum, talk about finances, and have a direct line of contact with the Stratford District Council to give a youth perspective.

They take their jobs seriously, while trading ties and dress shoes for hoodies and sneakers, speak highly of the events they’ve organised, and proudly talk about the longevity of the council – which was established in 2003.

There are 11 elected members, but just eight made it to October's meeting.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff
There are 11 elected members, but just eight made it to October's meeting.

In that time, it’s seen youngsters start there, and make their way into top council roles and parliament - like Power-Gordon.

He doesn't remember why he joined, but he remembers why he's thankful he did.

Power-Gordon recalled a time the council went to Wellington, and saw Parliament, which “definitely would have helped” his decision to one day work there.

“Youth council was amazing, it gave you so much exposure to all that stuff,” he said. “I loved it, and loved the experience.”

Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke, and councillor Gloria Webby, often attend the youth council meetings – as they did this month.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff
Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke, and councillor Gloria Webby, often attend the youth council meetings – as they did this month.

Stratford District Council's community services director, and acting chief executive, Kate Whareaitu, was also the youth council's first chair.

Mayor Volzke said she is the “example of a success story”.

Volzke thinks the success of the youth council comes down to the partnership between elected members like himself, and the youngsters.

"We view it as an avenue for our younger community,” he said. “I think it serves its purpose, I think we get value out of it.”

Connor Giblin joined the council to give youth a voice.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff
Connor Giblin joined the council to give youth a voice.

Current councillor Connor Giblin, 21, and co-chair Alena Hojdelewicz, 17, see the benefits of that, too.

Giblin first joined because he wanted to represent the youth in his community, when “you just feel like you’ve got no voice”.

And, the Z Hāwera worker said he felt the youth council helped with that.

“They’ve come to us a lot in the past.”

“And we can talk to the council about things,” Hojdelewicz added.