New friends, improved self-confidence and plenty of cheese toasties has made Whanake Youth a popular hangout spot for young people in Nelson.
Sisters Scarlett and Kiana Shutkowski have become regulars at the youth centre.
Kiana first started coming to the after school programme two years ago and is now a youth leader for Whanake Youth.
“I felt like I needed some time with people other than my family, thought it was a great environment to be in.”
She says she loves watching the kids grow and become part of the family.
Scarlett says she was dragged along to the centre six months ago by her big sister and has kept coming ever since.
“It’s just a really fun place to be and make lots of new friends, I’m not really good at making friends and since I’ve come here, I’ve made lots.”
Scarlett says she used to suffer from low self-esteem before she found Whanake Youth.
The charity has become such an integral part of the Nelson community it required a bigger space to cater for its growth.
Youth worker Nathan Hughes recently joined the team and helped in the refurbishment of the new drop-in centre, located at the back of the Stoke Memorial Hall.
“It was a bit rough, took a couple weeks to paint, but we have way more space, which is great.”
Nathan says the former site across Marsden Rec raised issues with neighbours in close proximity.
“Now we can get a bit raucous.”
Whanake Youth has leased the building, formerly a senior’s hall, from Nelson City Council.
Nathan says the centre serves a real need in the community.
“People come when they want to come as it meets an appropriate need, whether people need some positive role models or a sense of purpose.”
Scarlett and Kiana both strongly encourage youth, particularly those struggling with social issues, to visit the centre.
“Be part of the family, we are all friendly.”