Alan “Joe” Reid has been part of the fabric of Youthtown for 27 years. There is some confusion over his name: Alan has been called Joe by everyone including his parents since the tender age of two, however he’s known by most at Youthtown as Alan (his real name).
Alan coached tennis around the world for 10 years, teaching, here, in the US, England and Australia before finally returning to New Zealand and deciding he wanted to do something that made a difference. “I got back here and developed a real social conscience,” he says. “But I wasn’t sure which direction to head in.”
His sporting career naturally led him to take on a role at the North Shore YMCA where Alan helped to deliver a three month project. That job was his first foray into youth work and a springboard to Youthtown (then called Boystown). When his boss at YMCA took the helm at Boystown, he asked Alan to join the organisation.
The first role Alan held was as a youth programme tutor. He helped Boystown to run youth direction programmes for young school leavers. This involved helping boys 15+ years old set themselves up with the basic skills they needed to survive on their own. At Boystown they were taught all sorts of things like how to write a CV, tips for job interviews and helping them get their driver’s licence, booked literacy courses for those who needed it, and generally helped set them up with life skills such as cooking and budgeting.
When Alan first started at Youthtown the business ran at a huge deficit each week. “Some weeks we couldn’t afford the petrol we needed to run the vehicles; other weeks we just didn’t have any vehicles at all,” he says.
Alan got into a capital development project that found corporate sponsors (the likes of ASB and the Lotteries Board) and managed fundraising activities to keep Boystown going and growing. In this capacity, Alan also worked to raise capital to cover such things as the refurbishment of the Nelson Street building which was in need of repair and a real makeover.
“We raised $1.5 million to transform Nelson Street into what it is today – a functional space that is clean, tidy, welcoming and somewhere we really feel proud of,” he says.
Most recently, Alan was responsible for the operational side of the Nelson Street facility, then Youthtown’s national operations and branch development as the organisation grew and expanded to other regions across New Zealand. In the past 8-10 years as national projects manager, Alan has been responsible for maintaining Youthtown’s network of branches throughout the country and setting up and managing Youthtown’s outdoor Fitness Trails – of which there are now 10 located in schools spread across the country (and plans for more in the pipeline).
One thing Alan is most proud of during his time with the organisation is his role on the committee that drove the change from Boystown to Youthtown in 1986. Alan says; “It was previously a really male dominated place. We wanted it to be a facility that was accessible for youth Auckland-wide, and eventually, nationwide”
“A handful of us got together and approached the then President of Boystown. It was a radical idea at the time, but we made it happen.”
That change led in nicely to one of the things Alan most admires about Youthtown: the fact that it’s there for everyone.
“The thing that keeps me going is that Youthtown is so affordable and accessible. The door is always open, everyone is welcome. It’s always felt like a big family, waiting with open arms, and that’s why it’s so special for me,” he says.
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Ben Nanasca’s journey at Youthtown started 27 years ago when he joined the Nelson Street team in 1984 as a camp leader…2,000 kids and 180 camps later and Ben has never looked back.
Ben was adopted when he was 12 years old by a Kiwi family who owned a business in the Philippines. They later moved to Andorra, located in the eastern Pyrenees mountain range, where Ben’s love of skiing began.
Ben immigrated to New Zealand from Europe in 1972 after competing at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Ben’s event was the giant slalom and he placed 42 out of 73 competitors. It was a significant milestone for any young man but even more so given he was the first person to represent South East Asia at the Winter Olympics.
After graduating from teacher’s training college in 1983 Ben spent a year teaching at Dilworth School but his love of sport and the great outdoors was the main attraction for making the move across to Youthtown. Friends suggested he apply for the camp leader role and given his extraordinary sporting talent, he was the perfect candidate. The rest is history.
Although it was a significant honour to be invited to compete at Olympic level, Ben was severely burnt out. Not only had he competed in the Olympics, he had been skiing competitively since the age of 13. So, with the Olympics behind him, Ben made the decision to move to New Zealand where his adopted Kiwi family was from.
Over the years Ben has worn a number of different hats at Youthtown including sports coach, camp leader, holiday programme co-ordinator and after school programme co-ordinator. Today, Ben is in charge of staff training, mentoring and up skilling, the maintenance of equipment for the water sports at Orakei Basin, teaching groups of kids to ski at Snowplanet every Thursday night and running adventure camps. After 27 years it is still a highlight.
Although they’re a huge undertaking and responsibility, Ben’s camps are always a hit with the kids, especially the snow camps, which is no surprise given Ben’s background. The only thing that’s changed is the amount of paperwork Ben has to complete these days, but essentially the premise of what these camps are all about and the experience the kids get has remained unchanged.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than taking a group away on camp and introducing them to the great outdoors,” says Ben. “It always surprises me how many kids have never put a pack on their back before and would otherwise never have had the opportunity if it wasn’t for Youthtown.”
Testament to the success of Ben’s camps is the second generation of campers starting to come through the ranks. An eight year-old boy on snow camp was only there because her mother had such a memorable experience on one of Ben’s first snow camps in the 1980s.
Ben’s two daughters, Karen (now 23) and Alana (now 18), also attended Youthtown when they were younger. Now, 20 years later, Karen is a member of the Australian Ballet Company based in Melbourne and Alana is in her final year at the Australian Ballet School.
If you too have some great memories from your time at Youthtown, or would like to reconnect with Ben, visit our Facebook Alumni page
Tui Tait was first introduced to Youthtown as a 17 year old when it was called Boystown. NBA-level US basketball player Don Orndorff had just come to New Zealand for injury rehab and started coaching at the Nelson Street branch. Don’s influence at the branch and in the city was remarkable. Basketball became the sport to play and there would be kids walking down Queen Street bouncing basketballs – it was huge. Tui and a group of young basketballers came to play at Youthtown Nelson Street to learn from Don.
At the time, girls were just starting to come into the facility which had previously been boys-only. As a coach, Don was strict with discipline and demanded 100% commitment and respect from his players. The team at Youthtown was required to train four times a week – no excuses.
Something Tui will never forget is Don telling the girls basketball team that despite all the training they’d done, if they could not demonstrate to him they could climb all the way to the top of the ropes in the gym, there wouldn’t be a spot for them on the team at the club championships two weeks later. Tui’s lean and limber sister climbed the ropes first go and was immediately in the team. Many of the other girls struggled. Tui went back to the gym every day to try again and eventually made it to the top to secure her spot. Some of the girls never made it to the top and had to sit on the sidelines and watch their team lose the final by two points.
“It was probably a mistake on Don’s part to do this to us, but it was a lesson I will never forget,” says Tui. “You have these challenges in your life and sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t, but at the end of the day you have to keep on trying and find some way to get yourself through,” she adds.
Tui remembers Youthtown was a lot like a family back then - a real meeting place for friends and a place where you could just come and be yourself. There were always lots of children around, much as there are today, and the older children looked after them like they were their own brothers and sisters.
In 1977 Tui was the first female to receive the Youthtown Duke of Edinburgh Award for her leadership abilities, though admits at the time she didn’t really appreciate the significance of the Award. She received a letter from the Head Mistress of Kelston Girls’ High about the award and that’s when it sunk in that it must be something pretty special. “I was getting on with things and looking after those around me, to me that was just what we all did,” says Tui.
She left for 10 years to play professional basketball in Australia but then returned to New Zealand where she worked for the Social Welfare department. Even when she wasn’t working there, Tui volunteered at Youthtown when she could spare the time, always keen to give back to the organisation that had given her so much. Eventually when her children were old enough, Tui left Social Welfare and accepted a full-time role at Youthtown because she thought “I’m going to do something I want to do now” – and Youthtown was it.
Tui met her husband in her early days playing basketball at Youthtown. Her two sisters Reo and Moana also played, and her son Lindsay, now a Tall Black, coaches the family’s much-loved sport at Youthtown now too.
All up, she has been with Youthtown for over 25 years in a variety of roles that range from receptionist to basketball coach, events & fundraising manager and her current role as facilities & services manager.
During that time, Tui’s seen walls go up, and walls come down again. “There have been so many physical changes at Nelson Street in order for us to provide the right space for the organisation’s ever changing programmes,” she says. She has seen it go from having very little money – at one stage staff had to bring in their own pens from home – to having accessible money and resources. In the beginning it was just a group of people running all sorts of things for kids with no measurable outcomes.
Tui says that philosophically the organisation has changed in line with societal changes. In the last 20 years it has become more of a business, with one computer at first, then 20, and so forth. Children pay to attend programmes now, but Youthtown has worked hard to keep the attendance fees affordable. There have been so many changes to manage during her time and Tui, with her passion for project management and problem solving, has been at the forefront of many of these.
“I’ve had the opportunity to step into roles where there weren’t already processes in place and have been given the challenge to make them my own,” she says, and she loves the challenges this brings.
One thing she most admires about the organisation today is that “it’s still a really neat place where children and their families can come, interact with other groups or individuals, and find their groove. There is a fantastic team of supportive staff and programmes in place to guide them and help them find their purpose within the wider community”.
Tui often bumps into her grown up “Youthtown kids” that she’s either coached or helped develop in their younger days. She says; “They always stop to chat and they show such appreciation and respect because you’ve played a part in their life somewhere along the way that helped them become a better person. It’s really great to see how they’ve channelled their energy into something positive.”
If you’d like to say hi to Tui or share your memories, connect through the Facebook Alumni page