Huia O’Sullivan

November 13, 2019

Huia O’Sullivan grinds relentlessly for massive gains that impact lives. She knows what drives her and walks in that authentic truth. But sometimes, when she is completing funding proposals at 3am and has to get up at 7am to be on point for her Ngā Rangatahi Toa team, she secretly dreams of a future where her sole responsibility is to therapeutically laminate pieces of paper all day.

I grew up in a little town called Ōhope Beach, 6 kilometers out of Whakatāne. Growing up in a small provincial town came with its challenges but there were also positives: when most kids were having naps on the mat, our teacher took us for naps at the beach. The environment has a huge impact on my ability to learn and how I move in the world.

From the age of 11 I observed my mother in our community always sharing out her catch of whitebait, fish, and food from our garden. Ensuring that neighbours who were sick had greens and protein. To us, as Māori, that is manaaki or whānau ora – looking after those until such time they can care for themselves without expectation of anything in return. The act of giving for the betterment of people.

Then when I was 17 I was taken on a trip to Colorado for Christmas. A ski lift operator there seemed so happy with shovelling snow and greeting people. I thought – that’s what I want to do! I want to work in an extreme environment, love life and know I’m alive.

I spent the next five years working in ski fields around the world. The weather extremes were so harsh that I always had a respect for the outdoors. People saw skill sets in me that I couldn’t see myself and helped me to professionally develop my leadership skills.

During this time, I also volunteered with young people. I would often use the environment as a natural way to quickly strip away superficial layers to get to the core of working alongside them. I began working with young people more than I was working in the outdoors, so I retrained as a social worker. 

I started with Ngā Rangatahi Toa three years ago as Director of Engagement, working with whānau to bring about change. I believe mentoring is an effective and necessary part of young people thriving. I saw the opportunity to really embed that in what Ngā Rangatahi Toa was doing.

Now, as Executive Director, my key roles are to hustle and advocate. I hustle for sponsorship and opportunities that seek to further grow our rangatahi, and advocate for collective voices at decision making tables and for our brand.

The biggest challenge is always funding and funding gatekeepers who feel there is only one way to achieve outcomes, yet those outcomes continue to fail our young people and vulnerable families. That sometimes results in either walking away due to the amount of energy required to re-educate, or with middle fingers up, walking backwards slowly… I wish I was joking.

There can be exciting surprises though. When Tim Minchin was touring earlier this year I got a late-night email from his promoter asking if I was comfortable with Tim donating the VIP ticket sales from his three shows at Aotea… ummmmm, YES! We built a relationship from that with the whole crew – Tim, his band, his entourage, our rangatahi, our board and Auckland Live. We all came together because we have a shared vision of supporting young people through creativity!

The thing I’m most proud of during my time with Ngā Rangatahi Toa is our flagship Manawa Ora theatre performance in 2018. Our collective of young people finishing their final performance, standing in their strength on their own and me and my staff so proud of their courage, vulnerability and resilience to pull that off. It was my first theatre performance in the Executive Director role that quelled that internal voice of being just a little girl from Ōhope Beach.

– As told to Ben Woodward. Image by Tobias Kraus.

Education, creativity, and unconditional love are Ngā Rangatahi Toa’s secret sauce empowering our most vulnerable young people to achieve their hopes and dreams, and contribute fully to the future of New Zealand. Support Ngā Rangatahi Toa’s good work with a simple click of the button below.

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Education, creativity, and unconditional love are Ngā Rangatahi Toa’s secret sauce empowering our most vulnerable young people to achieve their hopes and dreams, and contribute fully to the future of New Zealand. Support Ngā Rangatahi Toa’s good work with your 1%.

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