Whakamana youth mental health programme takes off across the Whakatipu

29 September 2022

A targeted programme to improve the mental wellbeing of Whakatipu school children is taking off thanks to an unique community-business partnership and funding from Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group.

Since ‘iFLY Whakamana’ launched in late 2021, more than 100 local school children aged 11 and 12 (Years 7 and 8) have completed the pilot programme that helps address the increased anxiety, lack of confidence, and associated behaviours affecting the school community.

iFLY Whakamana is the brainchild of iFLY Indoor Skydiving Queenstown business owners Matt and Amy Wong, Whakatipu Youth Trust General Manager Jacqui Moir and Epic Living youth empowerment and wellness coach Sunny Sky.

The longtime locals were concerned about the rising mental health issues in under 14-year-olds, particularly those transitioning to high school.

After listening to parents and education sector leadership, Sunny Sky took the lead in co-designing a community-based programme for tamariki. Combining their skillsets and resources, she developed tools and experiential learning aimed at helping tamariki understand and manage their emotions, build self-esteem, develop healthy relationships, and care for their wellbeing.

Sunny also facilitates the innovative one-day programme, which is held at iFLY Queenstown Flying Academy. She says the combination of activities, which include youth-specific wellbeing, creative art, team building and communication, active movement, and personal reflections, “is designed to help tamariki experience a deep sense of body connection, confidence and courage as they overcome their fears and learn new skills”.

The final mental and physical challenge is to conquer iFLY, an indoor skydiving activity perfect for all ages and abilities. First, the iFLY team gives a STEM* demonstration and explains how the aerodynamics of the wind tunnel work and then the children get to fly, putting their new skills into practice.

iFLY Whakamana has been made free for all participants and education providers through iFLY’s support, Te Hau Toka funding, grants and donations.

Whakatipu Youth Trust’s Jacqui Moir says her team has loved being involved in the collaboration and the feedback so far has been outstanding.

“The outcomes for these kids are nothing short of spectacular and we’re totally invested in continuing to support them to thrive. For me, this collaboration has taken the concept of ‘ít takes a village to raise a child’ and made it real. It’s a fantastic example of the positive impact we can make as a community.”

She notes 23 percent of participants have since joined up to the Year 7 and 8 sessions at the Whakatipu Youth Trust and have been approaching the attending youth workers at the fortnightly school sessions.

“So far, teachers have selected children most in need to attend the programme but there’s strong support from parents, teachers and students for all Year 7 and 8s to participate as the content will benefit everyone as they transition to high school. With iFLY’s ongoing in-kind support and a year’s funding from Te Hau Toka we’ll be able to expand the programme towards achieving this goal.”

iFLY’s Matt Wong says the programme’s key strength is locals working together to solve local issues.

“Mental wellbeing is such an important issue that it’s an absolute no-brainer for us - we’re passionate about our community and our kids so, as a business, this was a practical way we could offer help and work alongside experts in youth development and empowerment.

“Being part of the programme has given our team a much deeper understanding of the challenges local kids are facing and our greatest reward has been watching them come out of it absolutely buzzing.

“Whakamana is part of our commitment to regenerative tourism and we hope it’s proof of concept for other like-minded businesses to get involved in cross-community efforts to solve social issues.”

Te Hau Toka Southern Lakes Wellbeing Group Chair Adell Cox applauds the innovation and hard work of everyone involved in iFLY Whakamana to help local tamariki.

“Prevention and early intervention are key to keeping our communities well and this is a perfect example of a community-led solution. The feedback has been phenomenal so far and we’re delighted to come on board to support the programme and help it grow.

“Matt and Amy’s vision is quite inspirational and we hope that, in time, more funders and businesses will come on board to help create a self-sustaining long-term model for the programme,” she said.