Tom's one man mission

From New Zealand Society, 1:30 pm on 14 August 2015
"I can do this!" This is an image of one kid practising his spin-the-plate-on-the-stick trick, at the Riverside Community Centre .

"I can do this!" Practising his spin-the-plate-on-the-stick trick. Photo: RNZ/David Steemson

 There's a lot of angry young fellas walking about in society. And somebody has to do something about that". -  Tom Haitoua

This is an image of Tom Haitoua and Tania Pope

Tom Haitoua and Tania Pope Photo: RNZ/David Steemson

He’s on a mission to help out youngsters from hard up families in Auckland's working class suburb  of Mount Wellington.Tom Haitoua runs the local Riverside Community Centre, where one day a week the young ones go to circus class. 

There are at least fifty youngsters here at Riverside this afternoon. They’ve rushed in straight from school, eager to learn. Oh, and to eat.

Tania Pope is Tom's right hand woman at the centre, She's prepared  hamburger buns  with peanut butter and jam, and cut up apples. Six year old William announces he's come just to eat. He plans to eat six buns.

There'll be hot sausages at the end of the session too.

Quietly spoken Tom Haitoua is a father of six, and started up the after school care programme at the Riverside nine years ago. He was spurred on after successfully confronting  an extremely angry ten year old who had trashed a classroom at Panama Road  Primary School.

He says society as a whole misses out if young people don't come up to scratch.

"They can cause such mayhem too".

Today at the centre, Paul Klaassen has come from the Circability Trust  to teach juggling skills, along with Jaine Mieka who's an aerialist. The centre has installed proper three and a half thousand dollar aerial ropes of soft cotton, and the kids crowd around Jaine keen to get their share of tuition.

This is an image of Circus teachers Jaine Mieka and Paul Klaassen

Circus teachers Jaine Mieka and Paul Klaassen Photo: RNZ David Steemson

This is an image of two boys using the aerialist rope  and spinning  the plate on a stick

Rope and spin Photo: RNZ David Steemson

Down the room Paul is wrangling his group into practising their spin-the-plate-on-a-stick routines.

"You put the plate between thumb and fore-finger " he tells them, "and then get spinning, dudes. Oh  look at that technique!" he calls out admiringly.

Tom Haitoua says 38-percent of the people in this little Panama Road area live in Housing Corp houses. He reckons the residents tend to get forgotten although many have high needs.The area seems a bit cut off from the rest of Auckland. There's the Otahuhu creek to its  south and east, the Panmure Industrial area to the north and the southern motorway to the west.

Tom says his centre is a safe place for the kids, and sometimes it takes a little bit of work to get their trust. Learning circus routines can help.

"You see a need, and I'm the type of person who goes, 'well it can't be that hard can it?'" He believes the chance to improve a kid's life is a privilege.

Since Radio New Zealand's visit to Riverside Community Centre things have gone a bit quiet. This week Tom tells me he’s still waiting for an expected operations grant from  the Auckland Council which may now not arrive till September. The funding for such things as circus training for the second part of the school year has still not turned up.

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