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Meet the family: Mandy Huser, Youth Development Coordinator

Mandy came to New Zealand from Canada, joined the Zeal Hamilton team, and was instantly thrown in the deep end. Zeal camps, afterschools, and remaking classic TV show themes – we had a chat to her about how she’s settling in to the Zeal family.

When did you first come to NZ, and why?

Mandy: I took the leap across the world in November – so about 3 months ago now. You hear stories like this all the time, I reckon – of people selling everything they own, quitting their job and taking off to some random place. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that this has been so commonly used. I think it’s a beautiful thing that this blueprint is available, and I always admired those that were brave enough to do it. At the time I was living in my hella small home town (population of 1000 humans), volunteering with an outdoor at risk youth organization and working a job that I did in fact end up loving, but I was hungry – hungry to meet new people, for a place where being out of your comfort zone was the norm. I felt stuck, and bored, and comfortable. I felt like I didn’t fit the mold and stories that people expected me to fit anymore. So with heaps of hugs + more tears than I like to admit, I left my job, left so many things at my folks’ place (thanks mom!), thanked my friends and family for the support they have given me and continue to give me, and lept the heck out of that small town.

How did you first get involved with Zeal?

Mandy: Around the holidays/early January I had that sense of feeling stuck again. Money was tight, I hadn’t met any solid travelling mates, and I didn’t know what to do next. One day I sat down and googled “jobs working with youth in NZ” – or something like that – and found the posting for Zeal Hams (solid work on the comms Jared). It was one of those applications that I thought I wouldn’t get but filled it out anyway. I don’t remember the exact questions on the typeform, but I remember feeling really pulled by them.

Not long after, the stuck feeling was still there. I had an interview for a job but didn’t get it and was so homesick, so I decided to go hang out at a hostel in Tauranga to be around humans. Not long after I was settled in at the hostel, Lehi texted me about having a chat about my application. That chat lead to an in person interview full of banter and yarns and more of the questions that pulled me in the first place. When I was offered the job, I was really torn. I had finally met some humans at the hostel that I vibed with, was napping on the beach in the Mount and eating ice cream all day, swimming in the ocean, catching the most magical sunrises every morning… but even though things felt magical at the time, the friends I had would be continuing on their travels soon and the weather wouldn’t be that great for much longer. Zeal felt like a call to that deeper hunger I had back home.

So I packed my bags, took off to Hui with the Zeal Hams crew, moved to Hamilton, and have been over-caffeinated and flailing around ever since.

What does your typical day at Zeal look like?

Mandy: It usually starts with me feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing, followed by hours on the computer sussing out all things after schools and programme related, feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing again and deciding to go feel that while buzzing off of too much coffee with heaps of banter at SL28 or Rocket Coffee Roasters, realizing I actually do know what I’m doing and that I’m always improving on how I’m getting after all of it, trying to decipher colour coordinated calendars made by Lehi, and ends with eating snacks and having solid yarns and laughs and chats about important life things with our young people at after schools.

How do you feel that youth work differs in New Zealand compared to Canada?

Mandy: I think that youth work differs back in the northern hemisphere compared to here mainly in the realm of how much effort is put in. Back home I found myself focusing more on connection and my relationship with the young people I worked with, being intentional with how I phrased things and approached them, and was highly empathetic – but found that these ways of existing always came up against the logistics of youth work, and they always lost. That might not make heaps of sense, but essentially what it lacked was nestling connection, empathy, and intentionality deeply into how the organizations function (i.e. through our ethos and people values at Zeal) versus following an approach that is outdated, impersonal, and half-hearted. In Canada we need to rethink how we’re doing things, and put a lot more focus on developing a “why” as a team and individually. I reckon this is where the disconnect is. If you don’t know what you’re following, or why you’re following it, you’re automatically going to be performing half heartedly and with less compassion.

What are some epic moments you’ve had during your time at Zeal?

Mandy: My orientation day involved carrying a couch to a fountain and getting absolutely soaked re-enacting the Friends opening scene… I reckon that is one of the most epic ways to start my journey with Zeal. Being the newbie on the team felt a bit intimidating for the first while, and still does sometimes – so the moments at after schools when I have a solid chat with our regular young people about their passions, or life, or even just irrelevant things, the moments we blast High School Musical and sing and dance around – those small moments of connection are really the most epic ones for me, because it feels like I’m becoming a part of the whanau.

What’s some advice you would pass on to someone wanting to work with youth?

  1. Most days you won’t feel like you’ve made much of a difference in a young person’s life, and other days you will be a walking, breathing, loving reason for them to believe in better things. Don’t let the former take away from the latter.
  2. Be honest with young people about your struggle and your mess. They’re constantly learning how they understand the world and themselves, and along this journey they need honesty more than anything.
  3. Be the person you needed when you were their age.
  4. Take care of yourself first.
  5. Be intentional with your word, and always show up fully.

You’ve been in Hamilton for a few weeks now – what are your thoughts so far?

Mandy: I miss ocean naps and tramping and not a single inch of me is a city human – but a place is only as good as the people (and ice cream and coffee) you know in it, I reckon. The Zeal Hams team, Duck Island Ice Cream and Rocket Coffee keep me sane. Nah, for real though, Hams has potential. At first I was hesitant as because it felt like no one here actually likes it here, but I love hearing Lehi dream about what we can offer young people and the community of Hamilton as a whole. I vibe really hard with things like the Sunday farmer’s market and coffee hour with The Creators and areas like Lovegrove Lane. So, to answer your question, Hams is starting to grow on me.

What do you fill your time with outside of Zeal?

Mandy: Well, in a non-city I would be tramping and camping and swimming and doing cool things out in neature, but in Hams I take myself on solo coffee dates and write heaps, dabble with photography, go for runs, listen to indie music, think about self-growth and connection and important life things, and watch too many movies.

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