When Peter Lillico and Wendy Betteridge from the Rotary Club of Plimmerton met Paul Ulberg and Manjit Singh, teenagers from Porirua, they knew they were going to mentor them as they learnt to drive but they may not have anticipated the bonds that would develop.
And when Partners Porirua joined forces with their sponsors, Caltex, the NZTA and the AA, they may not have anticipated the unexpected benefits that would arise out of the Community Driver Mentor Programme. The joint vision was to connect fifteen teenagers who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn to drive, either because there was no car in their family or because there was no adult to teach them, with fifteen community ‘mentors’.
But it was very clear at the graduation of the first fifteen teenagers on Wednesday 28 August at Te Rauparaha Arena that their driving wasn’t the only thing that had changed. Relationships that have developed between mentors and students are remarkable and friendships have formed. Not surprising really, considering the amount of time they have spent together for the past three months. Although the express reason for the relationship has been to prepare the students for their restricted licence tests, all the mentors have appreciated the privilege of working with such motivated young people. And they’ve been glad of the opportunity to impart some wisdom unconnected to learning to drive, wisdom about finance, budgeting, health and wellbeing that the students may not otherwise have gained so young but which will be invaluable for their futures.
Yet again, Porirua is blazing a trail. The success was considered sufficiently important to the nation for Porirua students and their mentors to feature in a segment on TV1 at 6.00 p.m., with the news that the initiative has been so successful in Porirua that it is now being rolled out in Northland, Auckland, the East Coast and Christchurch.
And the initiative hasn’t just put more young drivers on our roads. It’s put better young drivers onto our roads. Because of the value that the experienced mentors bring to the party, and the enthusiasm and diligence contributed by the students, the pass rate was 85% when compared with the national average of 50%.
So the Graduation was a very happy occasion. It was opened with a mihi by Hamuera Scott, followed by a waita from Sophie Tukukino, principal of Te Kura Maori o Porirua School with two of her students, Robbie Aria Daniels and Carlos Rewita.
Michelle Robinson, CEO of Partners Porirua, welcomed everyone and introduced Kate Quinn from the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Kate spoke about the terrible statistics for young drivers between the ages of 18-25 many of whom have no access to a car, no access to a mentor, and limited time in a car, with the result that they often drive unlicensed. She said that statistics tell us that the first six months after gaining a restricted licence are the most dangerous and that ‘partnership’ was crucial. Where it may take a village to raise a child, it takes a community to raise a good driver. She thanked all the partners who had participated and said that the programme had exceeded their expectations.
She praised Partners Porirua for their good, strong community links and particularly Michelle Robinson and Henry Samia for being such great role models. She thanked the ‘amazing mentors’ because without them, the programme wouldn’t have worked and remarked on the great relationships that have formed between mentors and students. She congratulated the students on their great pass rate and exhorted them to ‘stay safe’, practise what they’d learned and use it every single day.
Mike Noon from the AA spoke about enjoying his work with the AA because they can do some good. He congratulated the students and mentors and praised Partners Porirua for a brilliant programme that has gone really well.
Jeremy Clarke from Chevron/Caltex offered his congratulations to everyone. He said that everyone had started the programme with somewhat bewildered looks and that to come to the graduation and see the difference was amazing. He said that the amount of time put in by the mentors was truly amazing and he expressed grateful thanks to Partners Porirua. They had made it a success and were the sole reason everyone was together today. He mentioned that ongoing discussions were taking place with the Police and it was hoped that they will be involved in the next programme.
In presenting the certificates to the students and mentors (and a generous gift for each mentor), Mayor Nick Leggett commented on the great partnerships that have developed between people who can give their time, and young people who are willing to learn. The programme recognises the investment, not only in the future of our young people but in their present moments too and was a real, tangible development of young people today. He congratulated both the students and the mentors and stressed the value of volunteers because it wouldn’t happen without them.
It was great to hear from three of the students too who also thanked Henry and Jewelz from Partners Porirua for all the trouble they took to arrange the driving times.
Denys Latham, who mentored Carlos Rewita, said that he supposed that all the mentors had their own reasons for joining the programme. Speaking personally, he said that this period had definitely been the most fulfilling and enjoyable voluntary activity that he had ever been part of and he would be joining the next programme. He thanked Caltex, NZTA and AA, and told them that they had now ‘boxed themselves into a corner’ and wouldn’t be able to let this programme go. What the programme had done was to make sure that we are putting better drivers on the roads to reduce the carnage. We were putting the fence at the top of the cliff and saving the tragedy (and expenses) of being the ambulance at the bottom.
And more members from the Plimmerton Rotary Club have decided to join the next programme too!