Zeal Logo

"Pies and energy drinks do not count as real food": Youth work advice from Emmah Williams [Interview]

Emmah Williams has been involved, one way or another, with Zeal since she was 14 – that’s over 10 years! Starting off as a young emo at Zeal Wellington‘s events, she became one of our strongest youth advocates, then youth workers. As she moves on to explore the world, we sat down with her to wrangle out some stories about her journey with us.

Born in Masterton, Emmah grew up and went to school on the Kāpiti coast. As her passion for photography grew, she transferred to Wellington High School so she could be closer to their darkroom.

“I also was bullied a lot at Paraparaumu College and decided school would be better if I moved, and it was. It took me 2 hours to get to school each day, but I really enjoyed the change of scenery.”

How did you first get involved with Zeal?

Emmah: I was about 14, and I’d heard about Zeal from some friends I’d made on Myspace. I lived pretty far away from the Wellington centre, and my parents wouldn’t let me travel into the city. So one day my friend and I said we were staying at each other’s for the night and caught a train into the city. That night we stayed with a girl we met who later became one of my best friends! We still see each other to this day. 

What made you want to get involved?

Emmah: After high school, I got a job working for a bank. I worked in the call centre and quickly worked my way up to a social media business resolution analyst. I was getting paid more than either of my parents had ever made, but I was using the money to book holidays and get away from work as often as I could. I took my boss to HR for workplace bullying and started having anxiety attacks often. The thought of going to work was so crippling that I had to take a week off for stress leave.

I met up with the Zeal manager at the time and asked him if I could spend some time volunteering again. I wanted to go back to the only place I knew to be safe and comforting – Zeal was home. I changed my shifts at work to be able to help out, and went from there. It was magical. I had so much fun! After a few months, I took steps towards signing up for study to become a youth worker and started my internship at Zeal in 2015.

What does your average week at Zeal look like?

Emmah: Every week is so different! I run Girls’ Group on Tuesdays with our wonderful intern Hayley. On Wednesdays, I supervise our five amazing interns at Zeal Kāpiti. Thursdays and Fridays are usually spent connecting with the local high schools, catching up with young people, organising our afternoon hang out space and answering emails.

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

Emmah: Sooo many! Driving up to the Zeal West Auckland opening, meeting people in Glover Park who 11 years later are still some of my closest friends, seeing The Story So Far (and having a group of young people swooning over the guys), the road trip up to the Zeal Hamilton opening, and all the times we drove around roundabouts 100 times! I’ll never forget the times I’ve sat on bathroom floors, or lost my voice cheering at a young person’s first gig. I’ll never forget my first Girls’ Group or the classic 3am McDonalds after a show.

What is some advice you’d pass on to someone wanting to become a youth worker?

Emmah: Pies and energy drinks do not count as real food.

Youth work is never a job, it’s a mission. You will never leave work at work. Your heart will break and it will be hard. You will lie on the floor, mad at a system that makes things 100 times harder for a young person you care deeply for. But you have to find the strength to be an advocate for your young people, fight the system, play the system, dream up better ways for things to work and wade up current fighting for them.

What is your favourite café in Wellington?

Emmah: Of course I love Stories Espresso Bar, but when I want a little get away I grab a take away coffee from Hillside cafe and walk through the botanic gardens!

What TV shows are you watching at the moment?

Emmah: I’m watching Bill NYE Saves The World on Netflix! Its so interesting learning about things like climate change and the sexual spectrum. Oh, and I’ve just finished Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race! #TeamSasha

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Emmah: I’ve been smashing “Chemical Miracle” by Trophy Eyes. This is definitely my favourite album this year.